Behind the volunteer coaches at UAA

Eric Walsh of Fairbanks was recruited to run track in high school due to his natural speed. He was excited to continue his athletic career at UAA between 2005-2009. After he ran out of his own athletic eligibility, he returned to UAA as volunteer assistant coach.

Walsh’s personal experience as an athlete and the positive impact coaches had on him during his career drew him back to the sport.

Track and field volunteer assistant coach Eric Walsh gives instructions during sessions in the weight room. Photo credit: @GoSeawolves

“I had a really good sprints coach my senior year of high school, Bret Freesal, and I had a really good sprints coach, Jim Arronow, in college,” Walsh said. “I only had each of those coaches for a year and the year that I had them, had an impact on my racing. I realized that helping other people out with acceleration work, biomechanics and so on makes a really big difference in their performances.”

Knowing the importance of having a dedicated sprints coach and also being passionate about track and field prompted Walsh to join UAA’s coaching staff. While working as a supervisor at the Wells Fargo Recreational Center in the afternoon, Walsh put in up to 35 hours per week volunteer coaching for the track team in the morning. He would also use his vacation time as much as he could to travel to meets with the team.

“Initially, I helped out with the strength and conditioning and oversaw athletes in the weight room,” Walsh said. “Later, I worked with athletes on sprint mechanics, acceleration work and training programming with [associate head coach] Ryan McWilliams.”

Walsh mainly focused on the short sprints, ranging from the 60-meter dash up to the 400-meter dash. Races in the short sprints are over quickly, which makes eight months of work count for a race that only lasts a couple of seconds.

“I would try to ingrain certain motor patterns and attitudes into athletes over time and through specific exercises,” Walsh said. “Eventually, there is a point when you see an athlete suddenly put it together and you see a light ball turn on. They realize that the training is working.”

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In his years of volunteering for the Seawolves, between 2010-2016, Walsh contributed to five indoor Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship team titles and three GNAC outdoor team titles divided between the men’s and women’s team. He also helped athletes to numerous individual conference titles, conference and school records, personal bests and All-American awards.

“I didn’t walk into volunteer coaching with any long-term ambitions or plan,” Walsh said. “I consider it the same as teaching, where if you can help people in that way and you can teach them how to become better in a certain way, it is really rewarding. It wasn’t something I had ever planned on doing, it was purely by accident.”

Patrick Flanigin, the 6-foot-9 basketball volunteer assistant coach, also has deep roots in the sport that he still enjoys coaching today. An all-Western Athletic Conference player at the University of Wyoming in 1977, Flanigin played professional basketball overseas before returning to the U.S. to play for the Anchorage Northern Knights as well as Billings Volcanoes.

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Patrick Flanigin is in his fourth season of volunteer coaching for the Seawolves women’s basketball team. Photo credit: @John DeLapp/GoSeawolves

Flanigin is currently in his fourth year of coaching at UAA and enjoys every minute of it.

“I’m having the time of my life,” Flanigin said.

Flanigin has known basketball head coach Ryan McCarthy since his birth, as Flanigin played league basketball on a team coached by McCarthy’s father. Now, McCarthy is happy to be working with Flanigin towards the same goal — the women’s basketball team’s success.

“Coach Pat has had a tremendous impact on our program. He has played at the highest level in basketball and has a lot of coaching experience as well,” McCarthy said. “His outlook on life and basketball helps our ladies get a valuable perspective and we are so thankful to have a man of his caliber involved in our program. He’s been like a father to me.”

Another dedicated individual on UAA’s coaching staff is skiing volunteer assistant Adam Verrier. Verrier of New Hampshire skied for the University of Wyoming’s Nordic team. After his senior year in 1992, he moved to Alaska to continue his skiing on the professional level. His efforts were rewarded when he qualified for the Olympic Team in 1994. Despite the fact that he was not able to compete in the Olympic games 50-kilometer race or the relay due to a cold, Verrier did not lose his passion for the sport.

“In around the late 1990’s, Trond Flagstad, the Nordic coach at the time, asked if I would be willing to participate in UAA’s hard workouts. Trond thought it would be helpful if I would ski with the team during their hard workouts,” Verrier said. “I’ll always love the sport and this gave me an opportunity to go out skiing with a fast group of kids.”

Since 2009, Verrier has been listed as the official skiing volunteer assistant coach and enjoys supporting the team in every way.

Verrier is also supporting the athletes in the area of sports psychology, his major in college, and helps the alpine ski team by taking over physical labor on the mountain. That way the alpine coaches have more time to focus on their athletes’ technical finesse.

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Olympian Adam Verrier has been the volunteer assistant coach for skiing for nearly 10 years. Photo credit: @Adam Verrier

“With the alpine team, I spend a lot of my time standing on the hill running the video camera, setting up and pulling down race courses, manually keeping the snow surface on the hill in good conditions and haul gear around,” Verrier said.

Working in a job in finance as a real estate appraiser for 20 years, Verrier finds the student-athletes’ enthusiasm and excitement refreshing.

“To be able to work out in a group of this caliber is a real privilege which I don’t take for granted. UAA’s athletes are all high-achievers. It takes a lot of motivation and energy to be an NCAA student-athlete, and these kids’ drive and youthful enthusiasm energize me,” Verrier said.

UAA’s numerous volunteer assistant coaches support the Seawolves without pay. They spend their time and energy to support the coaching staff and the student-athletes. Most of them are rarely mentioned in reference to the teams that they support on a daily basis, but they do so out of a passion for the sport and their good intentions.

Other longtime volunteer coaches are Siobhan Johansen, third year, and Gaynor Johansen, seventh year, as well as Vigil Hooe, second year for the volleyball team.