UAA Athletics

Hooe returns, and the Seawolves volleyball team savors history

More than two hours after a terrible, heart-stopping moment left their season in doubt, the celebration launched and the Seawolves screamed in delight, giddy from a volleyball victory that usurped any previous magnificent moment in their program's history.

They were the NCAA Division II West Region champions by virtue of a four-set victory over rival Western Washington, and a program-record crowd of 2,710 showered them with affection.

At long last, in their fourth consecutive year in the postseason, and the seventh time in eight seasons, they had booked passage to the promised land, which turns out to be Sioux Falls, South Dakota, site of the Elite Eight that begins Thursday.

But before UAA's ecstasy — the Seawolves won 19-25, 27-25, 25-21, 25-23 — came first-set agony.

The crowd had only just begun to roar — the match was mere minutes old — when bedlam surrendered to sudden, somber silence, and it was quiet enough inside the Alaska Airlines Center to hear a dream begin to die.

Morgan Hooe kneeled on the court, posted on her hands and knees, head hanging, fighting back tears in a crestfallen moment when no one would have judged her had she cried a river. She is UAA's senior leader, the All-American setter who instigates its offense, and she's grittier than sandpaper.

But when Hooe dove for a ball, something gave in her right knee, and she could not get up on her own. She pressed her forehead to her left forearm and slowly touched her right fist to the floor.

"As soon as I couldn't stand on it right away, I thought, 'Oh, no,' '' Hooe said later.

She was helped off the floor, taken to the training room.

It was all too hauntingly familiar — "sort of deja vu,'' Seawolves coach Chris Green said.

A year ago, in the first set of West Regional opener, in the same building, on the same side of the court, UAA All-American senior hitter Katelynn Zanders crumpled to the floor with a high ankle sprain that ended her college career. The Seawolves went on to beat Dixie State in five sets that night — some current players recalled that to give themselves hope Saturday — but lost the next night, and were left wondering what might have been.

Zanders was in the stands Saturday night. She's Hooe's best friend, has been since first grade. They played volleyball and soccer together at South High, and developed into a dynamic duo at UAA — Hooe delivered the passes Zanders transformed into missiles.

"The first thing I thought was, 'She's fine, she's fine,' '' Zanders said, as if willing it could make it so. "Morgan is a really tough player, she can play through anything.

"I think in my whole life I've only seen her come off a court maybe once.''

Zanders made for the training room to check on her pal.

"Really just be there for her,'' Zanders said. "It was very emotional.''

Hooe got her knee taped and strapped on a black knee brace that was functional, if not a cape that by match's end would have seemed a fitting, decorative accessory.

Later, Hooe said she "banged up my knee a little bit,'' but you can be certain her injury was more serious than that.

[Check out this story on Morgan Hooe and her father, Virgil, an Alaska volleyball coaching legend and volunteer coach for the Seawolves]

In any event, UAA, ranked No. 9 nationally, trailed 7-4 when she departed the first set, and lost it 19-25 to the No. 16-ranked Vikings.

When Hooe left, freshman setter Madison Fisher came in. She had not played a second in UAA's previous 33 matches. Green intended to redshirt Fisher, meaning she would have four years of eligibility left after this season. Still, Fisher had made every road trip this season, a contingency in case something befell Hooe, so coach and player had already negotiated that what-if scenario.

Green said that after Hooe left the court, he and Fisher had what he called a one-second conversation.

Green: "You ready?''

Fisher: "Yeah.''

And in Fisher went, and performed — six assists, five digs, three kills, and a nearly infinite amount of sacrifice.

"She proved she's a competitor,'' UAA sophomore hitter Leah Swiss said after she unloaded a match-high 16 kills on the Vikings.

"So selfless,'' Hooe marveled.

And then, with UAA trailing 4-3 in the second set, Hooe returned to the court, and the crowd erupted.

And so did the Seawolves. Unsurprisingly, their hitting percentage elevated successively in the three sets after Hooe returned. The orchestra had regained its conductor.

Hooe furnished 39 assists, 13 digs, three kills, two aces and limitless inspiration. Senior Erin Braun cracked a season-high 15 kills on a match-best .424 hitting percentage. Chrisalyn Johnson generated a career-high 24 digs and 10 kills. Vanessa Hayes bagged six kills, a solo block and two block assists.

That was more than enough to offset Western Washington (23-8), the last team to beat UAA — the Vikings and Seawolves split their regular-season meetings. Arielle Turner gave the Vikings 14 kills and Abby Phelps 11, but Western Washington could not deter UAA.

UAA (32-2) won its 11th straight match, a late-season run from a team that earlier this season reeled off a program-record 20 consecutive wins.

When the West Region trophy was presented to Hooe, she held it overhead as her teammates gathered round and touched it.

On this night, nothing could keep her or the Seawolves down.

NCAA Division II West Regional Volleyball Championshops

All-Tournament Team

Kendra Bodine, junior outside hitter, Northwest Nazarene; Erin Braun, senior outside hitter, UAA; Hailey Cook, junior setter, Northwest Nazarene; Jayann DeHoog, sophomore setter, Cal State San Bernardino; Diana Fa'amausili, freshman middle blocker, UAA; Madi Farrell, junior middle blocker, Northwest Nazarene; Kayleigh Harper, sophomore middle blocker, Western Washington; Morgan Hooe, senior setter; Lauren Nicholson, junior middle blocker, Cal State San Bernardino; Abby Phelps, sophomore outside hitter, Western Washington; Leah Swiss, sophomore middle blocker, UAA; Arielle Turner, junior outside hitter, Western Washington.

Doyle Woody

Doyle Woody covered hockey and other sports for the Anchorage Daily News for 34 years.

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