Eve Stephens began her career as a Seawolf five years ago as a promising freshman that the University of Alaska Anchorage volleyball program recruited from its own backyard.
With that proximity, the Seawolves were very familiar the type of talent entering their program.
“She’s a local player so we were able to see her play club here in Anchorage and knew she had the athletic ability,” UAA volleyball coach Chris Green said.
The Palmer native and Colony High School graduate is 11 games into her final season and is on pace to make conference and program history. The senior currently has 1,611 career kills, which is 18 away from breaking the Great Northwest Athletic Conference record. She’s only 81 away from breaking the program record.
Still, Stephens is more focused on her team’s 10-1 start to the season.
“I don’t watch that stuff very closely personally just because that’s not what the game of volleyball is about for me,” she said. “I think that it’s amazing that I got to come here for these great four years and make a difference and make an impact and I’m really excited to keep going forward with my team.”
The current conference record sits at 1,628, which was set by Abby Phelps who played at Western Washington from 2015-2018. UAA didn’t join the GNAC conference until 2001. Jen Szczerbinski, who played for the Seawolves from 1988-92 with a redshirt season in 1991, set the program record at 1,691.
This year’s team is off to an incredibly hot start to their 2022 campaign with Stephens spearheading the offensive effort with 184 kills in 11 matches. However, she is more focused on helping the team get better and continue having success as a whole over any individual accolade.
“If I can help in any way then I am happy to do that,” Stephens said. “If it’s breaking the record, it’s breaking the record. If it’s winning that conference championship as a team, that’s really my goal.”
Winning a conference title would be far more meaningful in her eyes than having her name etched in either record book.
“I’ll graduate and that stuff will die down, but I think that conference championship would definitely stay with me forever,” Stephens said.
As momentous as breaking the conference record for career kills would be, Stephens admits that breaking the program record in that statistical category would mean more to her.
“I’ve grown up here all my life and this is a big part of the community here at UAA,” Stephens said. “Having my name on the top here would just be really cool seeing all the hard work I put in all these four years.”
Green recruited her coming out of high school in 2018 and said that they had their eye on her for a while.
Stephens played middle blocker in high school but when she got to UAA, her coaches moved her to the right side to play outside hitter. Green says that the transition has “suited her very well.”
“We knew athletically that she was able to play Division II easily,” Green said. “She has had the mentality to keep improving, she is pretty hard on herself, and is kind of a perfectionist. We appreciate the hard work and dedication that she has.”
He said as coaches, they love to see any player improve throughout their respective careers and that Stephens has “definitely done that.”
“She started as a freshman and has continually gotten better every year that she’s been here,” Green said. “She’s playing some of the best volleyball that she has ever played right now.”
Choosing to come to UAA was an easy decision for Stephens. She is a lifelong fan of the program.
“I grew up watching volleyball here,” Stephens said. “I watched Morgan Hooe and Julia Mackey when they were on the team and just watching their level of play on the court in this gym is amazing just to come to practice every day.”
Being able to stay close to home where family and friends were less than an hour away played a key role as well.
“I’m a really big homebody and my family is here so it just all kind of gelled together,” Stephens said.
Green admits Stephens being on the precipice of making history isn’t surprising given all the work she has put in during her time with the program, which included an extra year due to COVID-19.
“We don’t really look at record books as much as maybe some other people do,” Green said. “It’s just something that comes when you put in that effort.”
Some of Stephens’ individual goals for her final season include hitting above .300, something she has yet to accomplish as a full-time player. Her closest single season mark was .290 in 2020-21 but she’s currently boasting a kill percentage of .409. While the team ultimately wants to go as far as they can in the NCAA tournament, their immediate goal is winning their conference.
“Offensively, we’re doing some pretty good things,” Green said. “There are areas we need to improve upon but it’s a good start.”
Even though they suffered their first loss of the year at the Nanook Classic this past weekend, Stephens believes that they still played some good matches and one loss won’t set them back.
“We’re still looking to improve and coming back to practice we have a lot on our plate watching everything from these tournaments, what we need to work on,” Stephens said.
She loves the potential that the team has shown thus far and says they are excited to begin conference play this week.
“I think it is harder to maintain success at that level rather than achieve it,” Stephens said. “We’re really trying to work on becoming consistent with that success. Every team comes out and wants to crush us because of this great start that we’ve had so I think that it’s kind of like a target on our backs.”
UAA will begin the conference play portion of their schedule this week with a pair of home matches against Saint Martin’s on Thursday and Western Oregon on Saturday. Both contests will be held at the Alaska Airlines Center and will start at 7 p.m.