UAA Athletics

UAA women will try to create ‘magical moments’ in return to NCAA championships

Two years ago, the UAA women’s basketball team was poised to make a run deep into the NCAA Division II tournament facing a Western Washington team in the first round.

Fast forward to Friday and the scenario looks quite similar. But COVID-19 forced the 2020 tournament to be canceled and also washed out the Seawolves’ 2020-21 season.

No. 6 seed UAA (20-6) takes on No. 3 Western Washington (20-5) Friday at 11 a.m. in the West Regional.

“Two years ago, this would have been the same matchup,” said junior Jahnna Hajdukovich. “Some of us are calling it a revenge tour. We’re ready to show our full capability and we think we can do this.”

“Honestly I’m ecstatic. It feels better than Christmas sometimes. March really holds magical moments.”

The wait has been excruciating for the entire team, especially for seniors like Tennae Voliva and Lauren Johnson. Seawolves head coach Ryan McCarthy said the team is savoring the opportunity to be back at the NCAAs.

“March brings out the best in everyone,” he said. “The seniors are competing like it’s their last game. Playing in March isn’t guaranteed. As much as we’ve been there in our program, we aren’t above thinking that this is special. In their whole career, you’ll never forget what happens in March.”

McCarthy expects the matchup against a fellow Great Northwest Athletic Conference team to be difficult. The Vikings swept the Seawolves during the regular season, taking a 63-50 home victory in mid-February. Western Washington defeated UAA 53-40 on Jan. 20.

McCarthy said the team will need to convert offensive opportunities to get a win Friday at Pioneer Gymnasium in Hayward, California.

“Western has a very good team this year,” he said. “They got as high as No. 1 in the nation in one of the polls. They have a lot of returners. For us (the regular season losses) came down to defensive breakdowns and a cold shooting night. Hopefully for us the warm weather heats up our shots.”

The Seawolves’ corner of the bracket will operate like a mini-GNAC tourney of its own.

The winner of UAA/Western Washington will play the winner of No. 7 seed Northwest Nazarene (18-9) and No. 2 Central Washington (23-7). All four are teams in the GNAC, and McCarthy said the league has been among the nation’s best in Division II all season.

“I think overall we know that the bottom half of our bracket is stronger than the top,” McCarthy said. “We know who the teams are and the personnel. It just comes down to the team that can execute when things get tough.”

McCarthy emphasized capitalizing on the momentum of offensive runs.

“In college basketball it’s all about momentum,” he said. “A lot of our ladies that are returners, they understand how valuable that is. We’ve really emphasized that capturing that momentum.”

A 2018 Dimond High grad, Hajdukovich has garnered a bigger role as the season has progressed.

Her buzzer-beating 3-pointer secured a win for the Seawolves in their regular-season finale last month and she led the team in scoring in its opening-round victory in the GNAC tourney.

“I think it’s more of a payoff and it’s more the confidence my teammates and coaches have given me,” she said.

The game Friday is being live-streamed with links to the action available on the Seawolves’ website.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.