Following back-to-back seasons as GNAC champions, as well as making a run at the NCAA championship game last year, Seawolf volleyball was looking to build on that success. Even with nine returning players, there were bound to be growing pains after two of the program’s most decorated players ended their collegiate careers.
Erin Braun and Morgan Hooe, the first two UAA teammates to play in four straight NCAA tournaments, were integral in the sustained success of the program. Braun earned First Team All-Conference recognition and ended the season as the new career leader in block assists while also leading the team in blocks per set. She is now working as an assistant coach for the team.
Hooe ended her Seawolf career by shattering the all-time assists record, while also taking home a plethora of end-of-season awards. Besides earning AVCA First Team All-American honors, she also won the GNAC Player of the Year award, as well as UAA’s Bill McKay Athlete of the Year award, which recognizes excellence among all UAA athletes. With Braun and Hooe no longer donning green and gold, this season called for a new leader to emerge.
Thursday’s game versus Simon Fraser University was a more-than-welcome start to a two-game home stand following back-to-back losses on the road. With Simon Fraser struggling so far this season to a 6–8 record, this game looked like a perfect opportunity for UAA to get back on track.
Prior to the start of the game, Chris Green, now in his tenth year as the head coach of the Seawolf volleyball team, announced that two players had been dismissed from the team due to a violation of team rules, although he did not specify what rules were broken, simply saying that it was a “team matter.” The two players, sophomores Madison Fisher and Diana Fa’amausili, were both starters and had prominent roles on this year’s squad. Fa’amausili is the reigning GNAC freshman-of-the-year and was on last year’s NCAA West Regional Championships All-Tournament Team.
Keeping the issue in-house might mitigate potential drama, but this was still a distraction the team surely wished to avoid heading into their home stand. Distractions aside, the dismissals of the two Seawolves shook up the depth of the roster and gave Green an opportunity to tinker with his lineups.
The Alaska Airlines Center crowd of nearly 900 people were lively and excited as the Seawolves opened their first set against Simon Fraser. Just as quickly as it started, UAA found themselves down early after five straight points by SFU put the visitors up 8-2. Green called timeout and, immediately after, UAA began to get into a rhythm. UAA closed out the set looking fresh and dominant as they put away SFU 25-18.
The second set of the night was close, but multiple defensive miscues allowed Simon Fraser to pull away, and the third set once again found the Seawolves down early, this time in a hole they could not dig their way out of. Green emulated the kind of controlled frustration reminiscent of Brad Stevens, coach of the Boston Celtics, as a promising start to the evening now felt like it might get away from them. As the coach kept his composure, so did the team, and that resolve spoke volumes as the game continued into the fourth set.
Like clockwork, UAA once again found themselves down early, but this time they stormed back. With some savvy play by veteran Leah Swiss and an equally impressive overall performance by fellow junior Chrisalyn Johnson, the Seawolves tied the set at eleven and never trailed by more than two the rest of the way as they won 25-21.
The Alaska Airlines Center came back to life after disappearing into uninspired silence for large chunks of the previous two sets. After inconsistent play early in the game, the Seawolves volleyball team seemed to mesh in the fourth set and that momentum carried over into the night’s rubber match. UAA leveled Simon Fraser with a show of brutal dominance as they won the set 15-9, and started off their home stand with a win.