The University of Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball team had a huge void to fill entering the season after losing program star Tennae Voliva as well as some other key players.
Thanks to what head coach Ryan McCarthy described as a “really good recruiting class,” the Seawolves were able reload rather than rebuild.
“This is one of our better recruiting classes that we’ve had just in terms of ladies that were ready to be immediate impacts,” McCarthy said.
Even though they lost Voliva, who led the team in points, blocks, rebounds, steals and minutes played last year, their foundation remains the same with returners such as Jahnna Hajdukovich, Nicole Pinckney and Jazzpher Evans, who were their next three scoring leaders from a year ago.
“I really like this team, they get along really well,” McCarthy said. “This is a pretty special group with regards to team chemistry.”
The Seawolves take on a pair of opponents in Hawaii starting Sunday with a game against Hawaii Pacific in Honolulu. UAA plays Chaminade on Monday.
When a staff brings a bunch of new faces together, McCarthy said that when everyone gets to campus the first day they’re sizing each up to see who is going to play what roles and positions.
“From day one, there just wasn’t any kind of animosity there,” McCarthy said. “I think we have healthy competition every practice. We’ve been banged up a lot this season and having to move players from one position to another, so I think that’s kind of slowed some of our progress a little bit. But I think in the end, it’s going to make us more versatile and harder to guard come later in the season.”
One player who he said is already performing at an all-conference level is junior guard Vishe’ Rabb. She transferred in from Augustana University, in South Dakota, where she spent the past five years. Rabb recorded a double-double in her first game as a Seawolf by leading the team in both points and rebounds in their 86-58 win over La Sierra last Sunday.
She said she feels like every time the team gets together off the court, it feels like a sitcom or “comedy skit” no matter the setting.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re going out to the locker room watching movies, like, whatever we’re doing, it is always goofy,” Rabb said.
As fun-loving as the bunch is off the court, they are all business when they step on the hardwood.
“It’s the goofiest group that I’ve ever been with, so you have to be ready to be made fun of, that’s for sure,” Rabb said. “When you step into the gym it has to be a flip.”
Instant chemistry in a short amount of time
Despite having only been together for a short time, this year’s team is already a tightknit group with the way they get along off the court. Now, they want to carry that camaraderie over to their respective field of play.
“We want to do that well-oiled machine by the time that we get into conference play,” Rabb said. “Right now, I think we’re just kind of working out the kinks.”
As a coach, McCarthy usually only sees his players when they stop by his office during the day or in basketball settings.
“On our first road trip, I got to see how they interact with each other socially a little bit more, and we just got some characters on this team,” McCarthy said. “These goofy gals that give each other a hard time, have fun with each other and nobody takes it personally. That’s what you do with your family.”
Athleticism and leadership are strengths
McCarthy believes the strength of this year’s team is its overall athleticism. That makes them more versatile across the board.
“We’ve been able to move people in different positions and it still makes sense because they are longer athletes,” he said. “We can make a guard a four and we’ve put a couple of guards in at fives and stuff so it’s worked out real nicely.”
Another key area of strength for the team is leadership, according to McCarthy.
“Jahnna Hajdukovich and Kimani Fernandez are our captains this year, and I think they’ve done a really good job of setting the standard for how we’re supposed to compete but also how we’re supposed to treat each other,” he said.
Both players are seniors and returners from last year’s team. McCarthy said they have done a great job of instilling the high standard of focus, effort and execution that comes with playing for the Seawolves.
“I think that a lot of that comes from not so much me or the coaching staff, it comes from players,” McCarthy said. “We do have a group of seniors that’s been here that understands what the standard is, and they’ve won championships and they know what it takes.”