Food appears to be a theme as the UAA women's basketball team prepares for it's first overseas trip.
The Seawolves are headed to Taiwan, where they will be the only American team in a field of eight at the BLIA Cup university basketball tournament.
Tara Thompson of Anchorage is eager to check out the markets in Kaohsiung, which are known for their exotic food choices.
Hannah Wandersee of Kodiak is feeling adventurous about the chance to learn experience a new culture and new kinds of food, with one caveat: "I don't know if I'll try any bugs."
Their interest in food is fitting, because food helped pave the team's way to Taiwan.
UAA is taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows a school to play in an international competition once every four years. In order to make the trip happen, the Seawolves had to raise money to pay for it.
To hit their target — at first believed to be $40,000, but lowered to $35,000 when the team got a good deal on airfares — players started fundraising almost as soon as their season ended March 12 with a loss in the West Region championship game.
One of their money-making ideas proved as tasty as it was popular: players earned about $1,500 by making and selling more than 100 chicken and vegetarian pot pies.
"They were actually really good," associate coach Shaina Afoa said Wednesday after a team practice. "At first I wasn't trusting the girls."
No need to worry, Thompson said: "We didn't wear gloves, but we did wash our hands."
Afoa said booster Becky Erickson provided the ingredients and the kitchen and even made the dough and prepared the filling.
Then the players, working as if on an assembly line, rolled out the dough, cut it and shaped into pie pans, filled it with chicken and vegetable mixtures, added a layer of dough on top and then vacuum-sealed each pie.
"Everybody had a job," said Thompson, who worked on rolling out dough.
Wandersee performed two jobs. On the first day, she provided finishing touches like crimping the edges of the pie crust. On the second day, she was on vacuum-seal duty.
The Seawolves had to spend two days in the kitchen because the pot pies proved popular.
For the first batch, people pre-ordered pies ($15 for a small one, $20 for a large one) and picked them up at the Alaska Airlines Center. Pick-up day coincided with a trade show at the arena, and so many people attending the trade show wanted pot pies that the team took more orders and made a second batch.
"The pot pies killed it," head coach Ryan McCarthy said.
Additional money was raised via solicitations — each player mailed 20 postcards to friends and relatives seeking donations — and other fundraising activities.
"The ladies worked so hard," said McCarthy, who noted that every program in the athletic department contributed in one way or another. "When we first got invited and with the short timeframe we had (to fundraise), I thought no way. And they did it."
Thompson said the fundraising goal seemed unattainable at first, "but the coaches kept telling us we were halfway there."
"To raise $40,000 in a month or two shows what kind of support we have," she said.
"Props to the Anchorage community," added Wandersee.
Afoa said the team has players who speak Tongan and Samoan, but none who speak Chinese. She downloaded a Chinese language app and intends to learn what she can during the long journey across the globe.
Wandersee figures two years of Spanish in high school and another in college won't help her too much. Thompson heard the team will be assigned an interpretor, but she's prepared to pantomime her way through the trip.
"I think we're gonna use a lot of hand gestures," she said.
At least the team didn't have last-minute passport worries. Most players already have them because UAA travels to British Columbia once every season to play conference opponent Simon Fraser University. Thompson said that for most players, including herself, those Simon Fraser trips are the extent of their international travel experience.
The NCAA rule that permits an overseas trip once every four years also allows teams to practice for 10 days in advance of their trip.
"That's a huge benefit for us," McCarthy said. Not only will the team get a jump-start on conditioning, players new to team will get a chance to learn McCarthy's systems.
Those 10 days also provided an opportunity to become familiar with international rules.
For a long-range shooter like Thompson, that means getting used to a deeper 3-point line — 22 feet, 1.25 inches instead of 20-9. "It's another step back," Thompson said.
For a post player like Wandersee, international rules mean more room in the paint — the key is 16.08 feet wide instead of 12 feet. It may be easier to get called for three seconds inside the key, she said, "but there's more room to work."
Other international rules could play to one of UAA's strengths — defense.
The international shot clock is 24 seconds, not 30 seconds — unless a team gets an offensive rebound, when the shot clock is set to 14 seconds, not 24. Another difference that could help the Seawolves, who often play a full-court defense, is the backcourt rule: the team with the ball gets eight seconds instead of 10 to get the ball past the half-court line.
"The game is quicker," Afoa said.
The Seawolves leave Thursday night. It will take them 13 hours to get to Taipei, and from there they have a four-hour bus ride to Kaohsiung.
They play preliminary games on four straight days beginning Monday. The playoff round is Saturday and Sunday, July 7-8.