College volleyball competition returned to the Alaska Airlines Center on Thursday after a 649-day absence, and the Seawolves made it worth the wait.
In danger of being swept in its home opener, the UAA volleyball team fended off match-point three times in the third set and went on to beat Biola University in five sets on the first day of the Seawolf Invitational.
Earlier in the day, nationally ranked Central Missouri scored a swift, three-set victory over UAF.
The matches were the first at the Alaska Airlines Center since Nov. 23, 2019. Last season, UAA played home matches at the Seawolf Sports Complex while the arena was used as a COVID-19 alternate care site and a vaccination center.
The Seawolves repeatedly faced defeat in the third set before rallying for a 22-25, 24-26, 28-26, 25-21, 15-8 victory. A crowd of 567 watched them push their record to 4-1.
“That was some great fight by our team to overcome some early offensive struggles,” UAA coach Chris Green said after the match.
A quick turnaround will put the Seawolves back on the court Friday at 9:30 a.m. for a match against Texas A&M International. They play again at 7:30 p.m. against Indianapolis.
Biola was in good position to win its season opener with a sweep, taking the first two sets from UAA and building leads of 22-18 and 23-20 in the third set. Three times, the Eagles of Los Angeles were a point away from victory.
The first time, Eve Stephens saved the Seawolves with a kill. The second time, Biola missed a serve. The third time, Stephens got another kill, knotting the score 26-26. UAA took its first lead of the set on a kill from Lisa Jaunet and won it on a hitting error by Biola.
Stephens and Jaunet had giant nights. Stephens, a junior from Palmer who is the preseason player of the year in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, racked up 20 kills and 11 digs for her third straight double-double. Jaunet, a junior college transfer, supplied 19 kills.
Those two got plenty of work from Ellen Floyd, a junior setter who finished with 52 assists, 19 digs, three block assists and two aces. Stephens made 52 attack attempts and hit .308; Jaunet made 47 attack attempts and hit .234.
The Seawolves’ offense got much better as the match got longer. They made 14 hitting errors in the first two sets and eight in the final three, and after opening with a .132 hitting percentage in the first set they finished with a .236 percentage for the match.
They were red-hot in the fifth set, putting down 10 kills on 14 attack attempts with just one error for a .643 hitting percentage.
UAA outblocked Biola 13-7, with Jaunet and Vera Pluharova each making two solo blocks and Stephens getting five block assists. Talia Leauanae provided 19 digs, Akor Maywin added six kills and four block assists, and Mahala Kaapuni had eight kills.
Biola’s big spark came from Madison Beebe, who had 17 kills and eight digs.
In the day’s first match, 18th-ranked Central Missouri used a balanced hitting attack to take down the Nanooks, 25-17, 25-18, 25-18.
Hannah Engelken pounded 12 kills without an error to lead the Jennies to a .339 attack percentage. Kersti Nix added 11 kills and 11 digs, Audrey Fisher had 10 kills and setter Ally Offerdahl totaled 37 assists, six kills and seven digs.
UAF, which dropped to 2-3, was led by Rilee White’s nine kills and AveRee Reynolds’ eight kills.
The six-team tournament runs through Saturday.
Central Missouri def. UAF, 3-0 (25-17, 25-18, 25-18)
UAA def. Biola University, 3-2 (22-25, 24-26, 28-26, 25-21, 15-8
9:30 a.m. — UAA vs. Texas A&M International
Noon — UAF vs. University of Indianapolis
2:30 p.m. — Central Missouri vs. Texas A&M International
5 p.m. — UAF vs. Biola
7:30 p.m. — UAA vs. Indianapolis
9:30 a.m. — Biola vs. Texas A&M International
Noon — Indianapolis vs. Central Missouir
2:30 p.m. — UAF vs. Texas A&M International
5 p.m. — Biola vs. Indianapolis
7:30 p.m. — UAA vs. Central Missouri