The last time the University of Alaska Anchorage volleyball team beat their instate rival and sister school University of Alaska Fairbanks twice in one regular season, Seawolves senior standouts Eve Stephens and Ellen Floyd were high school seniors in fall of 2017.
But in a season that has seen a number of notable achievements, UAA managed to pull off the season sweep of UAF Saturday. UAA overcame a rough start to win 3-1 (18-25, 25-19, 25-20, 25-15) at Alaska Airlines Center.
“Brian (Scott), the head coach at UAF has been doing a good job recruiting, they have some really good players, some really good hitters and they have done a really good job the last four years,” UAA coach Chris Green said.
For the senior class at UAA it was another feather in their cap.
“It’s been a long road for us especially as seniors,” Floyd said. “Every year we’ve won one and lost one so it’s really intimidating to come out after having one win already and to feel that pressure of getting that second win under our belt so it’s really good to have that.”
The Seawolves had already beaten the Nanooks once earlier in the season on the road in three straight sets on Oct. 1 and were looking to complete the regular-season sweep for the first time in half a decade. However, after losing a sloppy first set 25-18 in which the they looked out of sorts and UAF capitalized on all their uncharacteristic errors, the odds of it happening looked bleak.
“We realized that they weren’t going to give it to us,” Floyd said. “No team in the GNAC is going to give the game to us, especially now that we are ranked in the top 25. We have a target on our backs.”
Even though they came out on top in the second set 25-19, the Seawolves still felt that it was a little too close for comfort. It wasn’t until the third and fourth sets that UAA felt it had gotten back into the groove and playing with confidence again.
“We understood that it wasn’t our best play, we knew we could play better and we knew things weren’t really our way but we had time to turn it around,” Stephens said. “We just took a deep breath. We all trusted in each other and did our jobs a little bit better.”
The Seawolves won the third set 25-20 and dominated the fourth for the widest margin of the match 25-15 to claim victory and complete the season sweep.
“The important thing is that we turned it around, played quite a bit better in the second (set), and then the fourth (set) was a little more like Seawolf volleyball,” Green said.
Floyd led the team in assists as she usually does from her setter position with 35. But what was equally as impressive was her offensive contributions as a scorer. She recorded the second-most kills on the team with a career-high nine and logged seven digs as well.
“Offensively she is a weapon and that frees up our hitters a little bit,” Green said. “When she is in the front row, blockers and (opposing) defense have to worry about her as an offensive threat.”
Stephens was one of the Seawolves who struggled mightily in opening set but had the best comeback as well, finishing with a match-high 19 kills.
“She had a slow start in the first set then she came alive, turned it around, and to be able to do that is a really good thing for her,” Green said. “Even though she struggled a bit early, she was her old self for sets two, three and four.”
This marked UAA’s 23rd win of the season and second in a row since the Seawolves lost their first in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference on Oct. 20 to the pesky Simon Fraser Red Leafs.
“Losing is never awesome,” Stephens said. “It was definitely hard on us but I think it fuels you.”
As big of a shock as it was, Floyd believes that the lessons they learned from it will be beneficial in the long run.
“It really made us realize that we can’t just coast through the GNAC,” she said. “Everyone is a top contender.”
They responded by beating another top ranked team two days later in Western Washington 3-1 and looking forward finishing the regular season as strong as they started.
“That was a huge comeback win after losing to Simon Fraser,” Green said. “Our conference is tough top to bottom.”