The Hungarian Olympian in the 49th state

Anna Berecz had already competed in the 2007 and 2009 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships before finishing 27th in the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. That’s when she started looking for opportunities to combine her passion for skiing with receiving a higher education.

When contacting several universities with ski teams ranked in the top 10 in the country, head coach Sparky Anderson caught eye of her. The two exchanged emails until they met in person and sealed the deal.

The two met during the Spring Series in Wenatchee, Washington where UAA competed and Berecz traveled to after competing at the U.S. championships to talk to Anderson. In the fall of 2011, she enrolled at UAA as a double major in psychology and languages.

“I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” Berecz said. “Sparky was very nice on the phone, and he wanted me on the team. I was very nervous about it though. If someone would have told me right off the bat what it was really like, how breathtakingly beautiful [Alaska] is and what an amazing time I will have, I wouldn’t have hesitated for a second.”

NCAA Western Championships
Anna Berecz competing in the slalom at the NCAA Western Championships, Feb. 23, 2013, at Bridger Bowl near Bozeman, Montana. Photo credit: AP Photo / Montana State University / Kelly Gorham

During her career at UAA, Berecz found success. During her rookie campaign, she qualified for two NCAA meets, competing in slalom and giant slalom, placing 21st in slalom in 2014. She also contributed to a seventh-place team finish in 2013 and an eighth-place team finish in 2015.

Additionally, Berecz recorded immense academic success by being named to the Division I All-Academic Ski team and earning the Dresser Cup, UAA Athletics Department’s highest academic honor, for graduating magna cum laude with an overall 3.99 GPA in 2015.

“Anna was always very professional. Over the years, she had quite a bit of success, which is awesome, and then went to the Olympics again in 2014,” Anderson said.

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Berecz represented her home country, Hungary, and the Seawolves, on the international stage. She traveled to the Sochi Olympic Games in 2014 in Russia, where she placed 21st in the Alpine combined, 28th in the super-G, 48th in the giant slalom and 35th in both the slalom and downhill events.

“I think I had my cake and ate it too,” Berecz said. “I got to compete for UAA, got a degree and I could also compete in big international races. Sparky and Julie Leclerc [former alpine assistant coach] have given me the opportunity to race for UAA and also let me do my own thing and fulfill the requirements of my federation. This way I could represent Hungary at the Olympics, so I am very grateful for them for being supportive and not making me choose between the team and my home country.”

After graduating with her double-bachelor’s degree in 2015, Berecz did not want to leave the state that became her home. When the assistant coach position opened up, her and Anderson were excited to continue working together.

“I knew that Anna wanted to stay in Alaska and I always have really respected her work ethic. She is an unbelievable worker, super smart and she knows the system. She was definitely the best-case scenario for me,” Anderson said.

Transitioning from being a high caliber athlete to coaching went very well for Berecz as she is very experienced in all aspects of the sport.

“The transition from being teammates to coaching went pretty smoothly for me at least. The difficult part was to stand on the other side of things and watch, instead of do,” Berecz said.

By taking the assistant coaching position right after graduating, Berecz became a coach to some of her former teammates, which can be challenging as certain boundaries are expected in the coach-athlete relationship. Charley Field, senior alpine skier, was a freshman when Berecz was a senior.

“I really did look up to her when I came into my first year. She gave very good advice and was motivational when it was greatly needed. I was very proud to be her teammate,” Field said. “I was also pretty excited to have someone as an assistant coach that already knew me. That way we could have a good connection on and off the slopes. Anna really pushes me to be a better athlete than I could ever be.”

After one year of coaching, Berecz’s optional practical training visa ran out in 2016. She decided to become the graduate assistant coach for the Seawolves, while working towards her master’s degree.

“I am currently getting a master’s degree in public administration and I really like it,” Berecz said. “I want to make the world a better place for everyone, and give back to the communities that helped me get where I am.”

Berecz is seeking opportunities to learn more about the professional world and build a whole new set of skills.

“I interned in the Office of Economic and Community Development for about two months this summer. It was such a great experience,” Berecz said. “I got to see local government in working and got to know some fascinating people, government employees who care so much about Anchorage and bring a lot of energy in their work. This internship brought me closer to finding out what else I am good at and what I could be doing in the future.”

Berecz made the best out of the opportunities given to her, and is paying back to the community that helped her achieve her goals. She values Alaska and all it has to offer and hopes to continue living in the 49th state.