The 49th state attracts various individuals for personal and professional reasons. The University of Alaska Anchorage’s enrollment replicates that trend with its high diversity rates.
UAA’s athletic department also presents Alaska’s multiculturalism, while promoting local talent. Of the 153 student-athletes, currently listed for the fall semester of 2017, 42 are Alaskans. Additionally, 51 joined UAA from out-of-state, which makes 61 percent of UAA’s student-athletes American. Twenty-nine athletes came from the northern hemisphere to earn degrees while competing for the Seawolves, which results in 80 percent of UAA’s student-athletes coming from North America.
Women’s basketball head coach Ryan McCarthy enjoys finding those talented Alaskans. After having a large number of athletes graduating last year, McCarthy currently has four Alaskans and 10 out-of-state student-athletes playing for him.
“Alaska is a basketball state, even in the small villages there are basketball courts and it is a strong piece of our culture,” McCarthy said. “Alaska has had some strong recruits come out of the high school ranks and we’ve been fortunate enough to keep most of them home. Our recent success and impact within our state have helped us keep our best and brightest home.”
Recruiting also comes with its challenges. Out of high school, many talented student-athletes want to use their athletic abilities to compete for schools out-of-state and experience something different than what they are used to. Associate track and field head coach Ryan McWilliams spends a fair amount of time recruiting year-around.
“The most common response I get from Alaskan high school students is that they want to leave Alaska. But I have an affinity for working with the talent that is local,” McWilliams said. “I do try to reach out and dedicate a fair amount of time to getting Alaskan kids to come to UAA. But at the same time, you have to make decisions that put the program on solid footing moving forward. When we have an out-of-state athlete or an international athlete saying they are excited and want to come, it’s hard to pass that up knowing that the Alaskan equivalent you are recruiting is undecided and may turn you down.”
Darrion Gray is one of the Alaskans who decided to leave his home state to play football at Presentation College in South Dakota. He returned and started attending UAA after the out-of-state tuition became too much of a burden for him. He made use of his speed and later earned an athletic scholarship for UAA’s track and field team.
“I could have taken out a loan and continued on going to school out-of-state, but that’s a path I didn’t want to take,” Gray said. “I came back to run track at UAA because I missed the competition and I missed being a part of something bigger than myself. There’s nothing like being in that intense situation where your next move can help decide the outcome to the game or meet.”
Sadie Fox of Soldotna decided to stay and join UAA’s Nordic ski team and did not regret a single day.
“I thought I wanted to get out of Alaska, but eventually I went on a tour of the Alaska Airlines Center and realized this was where I wanted to stay and continue skiing,” Fox said. “Staying close to home in my favorite state was the best decision I have ever made because I get to be close to my family and friends while doing all of the things I love. Our team has grown so much in the past few years and it has been awesome to get to ski alongside some international athletes and other Americans.”
International athletes combine to a total of 60 athletes, 29 of which are Canadian and 31 from all over the world. Four student-athletes are Australians, 19 are Europeans and six are from Africa.
International and out-of-state athletes do research about UAA and the athletic programs online or get to experience the Seawolves on the road, which makes them interested in joining.
“Most of the international athletes do their research online to see what schools they are interested in and what programs fit the profile they are looking for. They have the same general perception and their decision is based on normal recruiting factors,” McWilliams said. “In terms of out-of-state kids, I have had recruits contact us because they became aware of our program’s success or were at a meet that our athletes competed well at. And so that peaks their interest. Alaska is unique and they see that the performances are not tied up in novelty but that the program is actually quite successful.”
Even though only 39 percent of all student-athletes are international, 19 percent Canadians and 20 percent other nationalities, their influence allows others to make experiences that they had not expected to make when joining UAA. Gray traveled to Canada multiple times and once to Europe since returning to Alaska.
“Having athletes from different states and countries allows people to network and experience different cultures. I think my experience of working with out-of-state athletes and international athletes is one of the best things that happened to me,” Gray said. “Never in my life have I ever thought about traveling to Canada, yet since being on the track team here at UAA, I have been six times. I know I have made connections with people that will last a lifetime. If it wasn’t for the athletes that didn’t originate in Alaska, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
Additionally, several of the former out-of-state and international student-athletes decide to stay in Alaska and continue on with their education, volunteer their time as a coaching staff or find employment to give back to the community that has accepted them and has been their home for numerous years.
UAA’s coaching staff seeks to keep Alaska’s talented athletes in the state to represent the Seawolves. For McCarthy, a recruit has to fulfill numerous components.
“We look for fit. I think the first part is always athleticism and skill, but also how tough or smart a recruit is, plays a big part,” McCarthy said. “Our most successful recruits are ones who fall in love with our mission and want to use basketball to impact other people, in particular, the youth of our state. If they have a mix of those attributes then I believe they will find a great deal of success.”
UAA’s athletic department engages with the community through summer camps and clinics, hosted by women’s and men’s basketball, volleyball and hockey. Events hosted by athletes such as the annual Skate with the Seawolves and the Skiku hope to develop talent that turns into future Seawolves.