Gone are the days when the UAA volleyball team could sneak up on the competition, a fact underscored Wednesday when coaches in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference picked the Seawolves to finish second in the 10-team league.
It's easy to see why.
Four starters, including All-America outside hitter Katelynn Zanders of Anchorage, are among 10 returners from last season's 21-10 team that finished one match behind GNAC champion Western Washington and earned a berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Seawolves and seventh-year coach Chris Green are chasing their seventh straight winning season.
Zanders and outside hitter Julia Mackey of Fairbanks both ranked among the GNAC's top 10 hitters last season. Other top returnees include senior libero Quinn Barker, the GNAC's Newcomer of the Year last season, and sophomore middle blocker Erin Braun, the GNAC's Freshman of the Year last season.
Also back from last season's starting lineup is Brooke Pottle, plus four players who played in 30 or more sets -- setter Morgan Hooe, outside hitters Maureen Sabado and Sarah Johnson and middle blockler Caitlin McInerney. And middle blocker Breanne Sytnyk, a major contributor two seasons ago, is back after sitting out last season.
Western Washington, which is ranked 12th nationally, was the overwhelming pick to win the league, capturing eight of the 10 first-place votes. UAA and Northwest Nazarene each earned one first-place vote, with the Seawolves edging the Crusaders by one point for second place in the poll. Last year, UAA was picked third in the preseason poll and wound up finishing second and claiming their fourth postseason bid in the six seasons since Green became coach and turned the program into a contender. The Seawolves are 111-60 under Green, a two-time GNAC coach of the year.
Fans can get an early look at the Seawolves -- and the new Alaska Airlines Arena -- at the annual alumni match on Friday, Aug. 29. The season starts Sept. 5-6, when UAA hosts the four-team SpringHill Suites Invitational. The tournament will mark the grand opening of the school's new sports arena.