For the first time this season, the UAA women’s basketball team will be playing on its homecourt at the Alaska Airlines Center this weekend. Even more importantly, it will occur in the first Great Alaska Shootout after a four-year hiatus.
Pepperdine and LaSalle play Friday at 5:15 p.m. with the Seawolves and University of California Riverside set to follow at 7:30 p.m. The winners will play Saturday at 7:30 p.m. while the losers of the first game play at 5:15 p.m.
“We’re really excited just from the sponsorship from ASRC and ConocoPhillips to be able to do this,” UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said. “They made it possible. We’re really thankful for that support and I know that this has been something that we’ve talked about for a long time since 2017 and trying to bring it back at least on the women’s side. It’s pretty cool to finally see that come to fruition.”
The Sewolves have three Alaskans on their roster in senior guards Jahnna Hajdukovich and Nicole Pinckney from Anchorage and Chugiak as well as freshman guard Elaina Mack from King Cove, who McCarthy said will represent rural Alaska this weekend. As homegrown products, he knows playing in this tournament is “a really big deal” for all three of them.
“This Shootout is different than the previous one in that the previous was a basketball tournament in Alaska and we wanted this to be an Alaskan basketball tournament,” McCarthy said.
Through their play and festivities, the host hopes to showcase the different Indigenous cultures and homegrown talent of Alaska.
“I’m excited for those three ladies to be able to play on this stage and to be able to compete against some Division I teams on our home floor,” McCarthy said.
The individual and team trophies awarded this weekend will be Alaskan art. The tournament’s Most Valuable Player is going to receive an ivory piece of art, the all-tournament team honorees will be given baleen, and the champion and runner-up team trophies will be walrus skulls with ivory tusks.
There will also be some tables present in the facility where local Alaska Native artists will be selling handcrafted and homemade art and other goods.
“We’re really excited to be able to not only have the basketball tournament, but be able to showcase those pieces of Alaska,” McCarthy said.
All the players feel honored to be a part of such a unique event, and especially the ones from the 49th state.
“For the sponsors and donors, we’re more than grateful and they’ve given us this opportunity and we just want to make the most of it and we hope to show that on Friday,” Hajdukovich said.
Pinckney is the only player on the current team that played in the last Shootout back in 2017 when she was a freshman and the Seawolves beat Division I Tulsa 59-53 to claim the last tournament title. She saw 17 minutes and recorded two points, a pair of assists and three rebounds.
“I’m really excited for it to come back,” Pinckney said. “I think it’s great for our community and I’m excited to see everyone in our gym again for the first time in a while but I think this year it means a lot to us because it’s been a while since it’s been here.”
Hajdukovich is part of both a Shootout and UAA basketball legacy as her mother, Michelle (Titus) Hajdukovich, is a former women’s player for the Seawolves while her father, Jim Hajdukovich, is not only a former member of the men’s program but is also enshrined in the Seawolf Hall of Fame.
“I’m honored that it’s back and really excited,” Hajdukovich said. “My dad played in it and I just remember stories growing up with him playing against Kentucky and the big (Division I teams).”
The Dimond High graduate is excited that her family will get to see her play in it since the Shootout is a huge part of their history.
“It’s kind of like in the history books of the legacy of my family and the lineage so I’m really excited and take a lot of pride that it’s back in the hometown and we get to represent all the people that come out to watch us,” Hajdukovich said.
She was just a baby when her father was playing in the Shootout so her most fond memories of the event are all the colorful stories he told her.
“We have a big plaque at my house of my dad playing against Kentucky so that picture is just engrained in my head,” Hajdukovich said. “Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to play in it and kind of make my own memories as a player within the Great Alaska shootout. As an Alaskan, I’m just really stoked.”