The UAA women's basketball team has been the darlings of the Great Alaska Shootout for the last five years. The Seawolves have played in every championship game since 2006 and won four in a row before Kent State ended their reign last year.
The Division II Seawolves have more than held their own against a host of Division I teams, so it's easy to shrug off coach Tim Moser's concern going into today's first-round game against the University of Miami.
"We could play well and get beat by 20, 25, 30 points," he said. "Athletically, they are just superior. That's why they're ranked where they are. They're big, quick and don't have a flaw that I can see."
"They're the best team we've had in the Shootout since I've been here."
Then again, Moser isn't prone to hyperbole.
And you don't need to do much research to figure out that the Hurricanes could send chills down any coach's back.
They are the seventh-ranked team in the nation. They return every player from last season's 28-5 team that captured the ACC title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament -- plus they made some nice acquisitions during the offseason. They have one player who is a preseason All-American and two who are on the preseason nominee list for the John R. Wooden Award.
And they have a national coach of the year in Katie Meier, who shared last season's award with two of the sports' greats -- UConn's Geno Auriemma and Stanford's Tara VanDerveer.
If that's not enough, there's even more bad news for the Seawolves -- Miami is likely to have some fans in the Sullivan Arena stands who think the Hurricanes are the darlings of the Shootout.
Anchorage's Sylvia Bullock, a 6-foot-2 forward, is a senior on the Miami team. A former star for South High, she's looking to add another championship gold pan to her family's collection -- sister Beatrice helped Iowa to the Shootout title in 2001. Her brother Peter, meanwhile, played in four Shootouts during his career with UAA (2000-03).
Then there's the Jeannie Hebert-Truax factor. Hebert-Truax coached the Wasilla Warriors to last season's Class 4A state high school championship, but before she was a coach, she was one of the best players in Alaska history.
After a stellar career at Monroe Catholic in Fairbanks, she took her game to Miami, where she was a star point guard. She was an honorable mention All-American for the Hurricanes in 1991-92, when she set a school record for single-season assists with 221.
Luckily for the Seawolves, they've won their share of Shootout fans over the years, and they've enjoyed success in recent years that rivals Miami's -- although it's come at the Division II level.
UAA is ranked 12th in the nation and bring a 4-0 record into today's 2 p.m. game against Miami (2-1). They return two starters and five others from last season's 27-7 team that made it to the second round of the Division II tournament.
And they have one of Division II's best coaches in Moser, who is merely the winningest active coach in Division II with an 83.3 winning percentage (135-27) in his first five seasons with the Seawolves.
Shootout fans are sure to remember 6-foot-2 senior center Hanna Johansson, a fiery post player who is a preseason All-American after averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 51 percent a year ago, and 6-0 junior forward Alysa Horn, who brings rebounding toughness and a knack for hitting 3-pointers. Both earned spots on last year's all-tournament team.
This year, fans are sure to notice newcomer Haley Holmstead, a 5-7 guard who is averaging nearly a point per minute for the Seawolves.
You read that right. She's averaging nearly a point per minute.
Granted, UAA's first three opponents were D-II teams unlikely to contend in their respective conferences this year, and they met the Seawolves at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex, where the Seawolves have seldom lost during the Moser years.
All four games were blowouts in which no one played more than 25 minutes. Even so, Holmstead, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College, is averaging 18 points a game and has played an average of 21.5 minutes in those games.
She doesn't take a lot of shots, but she doesn't need to, because she hits so many of them -- 31 of 48 for a shooting percentage of 64.6 percent.
"She's even better than I thought," Moser said. "Her basketball IQ and her personality are tremendous.
"She's such a good ball-handler, she knows every position on the floor, she can shoot the 3, she can score in the post and she's a great mid-range, old-school player -- she knows how to play without the 3-point shot."
Holmstead was a two-time junior college All-American who was at the top of UAA's recruiting list, Moser said. He credits assistant coach Rebecca Alvidrez and former volunteer assistant Elisha Harris with landing Holmstead.
Holmstead is one of three newcomers expected to start today, along with freshman point guard Gritt Ryder and junior guard Bruna Deichmann -- who come from Denmark and Brazil, respectively, and give UAA three international players in the starting five (Johansson is from Sweden).
The fifth starter is Kylie Robison, a returning forward who got better and better last season. She's one of the team's grittiest players and a force in the paint who leads the team with nine rebounds per game.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.