The UAA volleyball team has endured a 15-month layoff since its last match, so spending several hours on the Parks Highway before returning to action this week probably won’t seem like a huge inconvenience for the Seawolves.
UAA is scheduled to play the Nanooks on Friday night and Saturday afternoon at the Patty Center.
To get there, the Seawolves will load themselves and their gear into a 12-passenger van and an F-250 pickup truck. With head coach Chris Green at the wheel of the truck and assistant coach Stacie Meisner driving the van, the Seawolves will drive to Fairbanks on Thursday and drive home after the Saturday match.
The team is driving instead of flying to save money, Green said.
The matches will mark the start of an abbreviated nonconference season for both teams, whose 2020 season vanished due to COVID-19.
The last time the Seawolves played was Dec. 6, 2019 — a four-set West Region playoff loss to Cal State-San Bernardino, which went on to win the NCAA Division II national championship.
“They’re very excited to be able to play,” Green said. “It’s been a long time. We have a couple injuries so we’re not fully healthy, but we’re excited to play against someone besides ourselves.”
The college season usually happens in the fall, but a number of schools are playing brief seasons this spring. There’s no postseason and no Great Northwest Athletic Conference season, but for UAA and UAF, there will be some matches.
The Nanooks have announced a 10-match season that includes four matches against UAA — two this week in Fairbanks and two March 26-27 at the Seawolf Sports Complex.
Green said the Seawolves expect to play about 16 matches, all but two of them on the road, but a schedule hasn’t been finalized yet.
No spectators will be allowed at any matches.
UAA is taking a mix of veterans and newcomers to Fairbanks, including three redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen. The weekend matches are particularly important for the newcomers, Green said, but the veterans will benefit too.
“We try to make our practices very game-like and very fast, (but) competition against an opponent and being able to adjust on the fly is something that is invaluable,” Green said. “When we play against each other, our defensive specialists know where our hitters are going to hit, so they’re not adjusting as the game progresses.
“I think we do a great job in practice making it competitive, but competition, especially for freshmen, is so important to get them playing at a college level.”
Though bus trips are a rarity for UAA during the regular season — teams typically fly to Fairbanks and the Lower 48 — but the 360-mile drive to Fairbanks isn’t new for the volleyball team. The teams usually play a couple of scrimmage matches in the spring, Green said, and the last times the scrimmages were held in Fairbanks, the Seawolves drove there.