The University of Alaska Anchorage volleyball team’s sensational start to the 2022 season is unlike anything star setter Ellen Floyd has “ever experienced before” in her first four years with the program.
The fifth-year senior has been instrumental to UAA’s 19-1 overall record and perfect 9-0 mark against Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponents.
She said one of UAA head coach Chris Green’s favorite sayings is “As the tide rises so do all the ships.” Floyd believes that analogy encapsulates the team.
“With everyone uplifting each other and pushing each other to be better, that has really helped my success and the team success,” Floyd said. “I think when we have team success, it makes us individually successful.”
Floyd has been racking up the individual accolades as well.
Floyd already owns the UAA career records for assists (4,437) and aces (195) and has her sights set on both GNAC career records as well. She is currently at No. 2 all-time in the conference in assists and aces, needing just four more aces to surpass former Central Washington University standout, Erin Norris, atop the list. Norris recorded 198 career aces during her time with the Wildcats from 2006-09.
“She’s a great athlete, she can hit the ball pretty well for a setter, plays good defense, and is probably one of the best setters if not in the GNAC, one of the best if not the best in the whole country,” Green said.
The two-time All-GNAC selection thinks it’d be “really cool” if she got the career assists record as well by the end of the season but she’d need to continue the torrid pace to reach the mark. The current record is 4,780, set by Kate Reome, who played at Central Washington University from 2001 to 2004.
She credits the entire university “as a whole” for not only her hot start to the year but for her stellar career and accomplishments altogether.
“The team, our coaching staff, the school, and everything about UAA has really helped me be there and it’s really cool to be one of those top players and feel the support of my team behind me,” Floyd said.
Green compares the setter position in volleyball to the quarterback position in football where being a good leader is paramount.
“She’s been around for a while and is continuing to do a great job leading the team as the setter and leading the team as the captain,” he said. “The team looks to her and her confidence when she’s on the court and it just helps everyone.”
The leadership the team receives from seniors like herself and all-time GNAC great outside hitter Eve Stephens has spearheaded the development of this year’s team.
“That has driven our success through the season so far,” Floyd said.
She was elected as one of the team captains this year along with fellow senior starter Talia Leauanae.
Symbiotic dynamic with Stephens
Floyd and Stephens came into the program together and have both had stellar careers. Stephens holds both the school and conference records for kills.
“It’s really nice when you get to play with a teammate for five years,” Floyd said. “That really helps.”
The fact that they came into college together and are both best friends and roommates has only strengthened their relationship.
“It makes you feel like you are inside their brain when you’re on the court and you’re the same person when you’re out there,” Floyd said. “We know what is expected of us and what we can perform and how we’re going to do it.”
They have played together enough that Floyd is able to get it to her top offensive weapon whether Stephens is playing in front or behind her.
“Ellen does a good job setting behind her.” Green said. “That connection is significantly better this year than it was last year.”
Benefits and challenges of COVID season
The offseason following the 2019 season seemed eternal for Floyd and the Seawolves due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. UAA volleyball was one of the many NCAA programs that had its 2020-2021 season delayed and condensed.
The Seawolves didn’t play a single match in 2020 and 469 days elapsed before they were able to take the court again from their last match on Dec. 6, 2019, to their next on March 19, 2021.
“I think it definitely helped us mature a little bit as a team and then individually as well,” Floyd said. “You had to get through a mental block because we went a whole entire year without any games.”
With no games during that stretch, the focus was on practice, conditioning and training without enjoying any form of live competition against an opposing team.
“That was really hard, because we practice every week so that we can play on the weekends and get that outcome,” Floyd said. “During COVID we didn’t have that. We were just practicing over and over.”
Staying grounded during sizzling hot streak
It can be difficult for a team that is rolling the way the Seawolves have to start the year to stay level-headed and not overlook or underestimate opponents.
“We take each team seriously,” Green said. “Everybody in the GNAC is good enough to beat anybody else so if you don’t step on the court ready to go, you’re going to get a loss.”
Given their dominant record in the first half of the year, Floyd and the Seawolves know that they’re going to get every team’s best shot each week.
“We take it one day at a time, we take it one practice at a time, and one rep at a time,” she said. “We try not to look too far to the future and just go game by game, day by day and make sure that we’re giving our all everyday on the court.”
Looming rematch with feisty Falcons
UAA will be taking on a tough conference opponent on Thursday when they host Seattle Pacific University at the Alaska Airlines Center at 7 p.m. The Falcons are one of just three teams to take the Seawolves to five sets this season.
“They’re playing very well right now, they are a hot team, maybe the hottest team in the GNAC,” Green said.
Their first matchup took place last month on Sept. 17 in a road tilt with a hostile crowd. Floyd and the rest of the team is happy they’ll have the comfort and support of home-court advantage.
“I think it’s really awesome to have them on our home court now,” she said. “Now that we have our home and our fanbase, it’s going to be more of a team. It’s not just us on the court, it’s our fans backing us as well.”