Two days after one of its most productive offensive weapons underwent surgery, the UAA volleyball team got some good news.
The Seawolves are ranked fifth in the inaugural West Region rankings released Wednesday -- a ranking that is much higher than coach Chris Green expected, and one that could pave his team's way into the NCAA Division II playoffs.
The rankings will decide which eight teams make the West Region playoffs in December. Three tournament berths go to the champions from the region's three conferences and the rest go to the highest remaining teams in the rankings.
"We heard right after practice was over," Green said. "The girls were excited about it. There was a possibility of being in the top eight -- obviously we're working hard to be the (Great Northwest Athletic Conference) champs -- but it's exciting for that first ranking to be so high."
The news was welcomed by a team that is still adjusting to the loss of outside hitter Julia Mackey, who was leading the team in kills-per-set when she went down with a knee injury during UAA's upset of nationally ranked Western Washington. UAA lost two straight matches following the loss of Mackey, but rebounded last week with a pair of road victories.
Mackey, a sophomore from Fairbanks, had surgery Monday to repair a tear in her meniscus, Green said. Her return remains uncertain.
"There's a slight chance she could come back for the last weekend of the regular season, but not very high of a chance," Green said. "If we did make it to the region (tournament), she should be able to play."
In the meantime, sophomore Caitlin McInerney is filling in for Mackey. Usually a middle blocker, McInerney is learning about life on as an outside hitter. She delivered a career-high 11 kills, four assists and four digs last weekend in UAA's win over Western Oregon.
"Caitlin did a good job," Green said. "She's had a couple of good practices this week."
UAA has three more weeks of regular-season play before the Dec. 5-7 region tournament, which is typically hosted by the top seed. Right now the top-ranked team in the region is UC-San Diego of the California Collegiate Athletic Association, a team that swept UAA at a tournament in San Diego earlier this season.
Ten teams make up the West Region rankings, and the GNAC is home to four of them. UAA ranks fifth, Western Washington is sixth, Central Washington seventh and Northwest Nazarene eighth. The CCAA has four teams in the rankings and the Pac West has two.
"I honestly didn't expect the GNAC to have four teams in there," Green said.
UAA plays just once this week -- a Saturday night match against in-state rival UAF at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex. With no match on Thursday, the Seawolves have more time than usual to prepare this week, Green said.
"It gives us some time to work on some fundamental skills, so we've done some back-row defense and blocking," he said.
UAA is 17-8 overall and 11-2 in the GNAC. UAF is 4-20 overall, 3-10 in conference.