The University of Alaska Anchorage gymnastics team opened the 2023 season in front of a lively crowd Friday night at the Alaska Airlines Center.
Despite falling to the West Chester University Rams 191.000-189.175 in a dual meet, the Seawolves felt like the meet was a victory before either team stepped on the floor for the first rotation.
After nearly being eliminated due to budget cuts in 2020, the team raised the necessary funds for permanent reinstatement last summer, ensuring the future of the program.
“It was a very emotional meet for us,” Seawolves head coach Marie-Sophie Boggasch said. “I cried during the (national) anthem. I was already in tears and was like, ‘OK, I got to reel it in.’”
Even though they were able to compete last year after being conditionally reinstated for a season, the Seawolves did so not knowing if they would be able to build off any success they had if they weren’t able to raise enough money to be fully reinstated.
“It was very different as far as the emotions went and as far as the composure went,” Boggasch said. “We knew that this time, we were back for real. It was an emotional one but obviously very exciting.”
[UAA gymnastics reaches fundraising goal for permanent reinstatement]
According to the university’s athletic department, there were 671 people in attendance for the meet, which is the most that Boggasch can recall having in a long time. She was pleasantly surprised by the number of students there.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I was a little nervous about running a meet the weekend before classes are back in session.”
Also among the large crowd were many community members and supporters who helped the program raise the $888,000 needed for full reinstatement.
“I was super excited to see many of our donors came who made the reinstatement possible and super excited about how filled the student section was and how many posters were out there,” Boggasch said. “That’s a community that we’ve been trying to build for the last several years.”
She felt like the impressive turnout was proof that they made the right decision to fight for the future of the program.
Although her team didn’t come out on top, she was pleased with the poise, overall execution and control they showed in their events.
“I think we met the majority of our goals,” Boggasch said. “We did really well trying to control our landings while we’re hyped up and embracing all the energy and making sure we give the judges the least amount of opportunity to deduct.”
Although they have one of the largest rosters in program history, they’re a young squad that features seven freshmen, a graduating junior and just three seniors.
Rachel Decious, one of the seniors, finished in the top three of all three events. That included sharing a victory in the floor exercise with West Chester’s McKenna Kissinger at 9.75, tying for second on bars with a 9.45 and coming in third on beam with a 9.7.
“It’s awesome and really exciting,” Decious said. “Feeling the energy from such a big crowd was really fun.”
In her fifth season with the program, she relishes her role as a veteran leader on the team and takes pride in being able to show the younger gymnast the “Seawolf way.”
“Last year was a pretty big one because we had a pretty big incoming class that had never competed before because of COVID,” Decious said. “This year we have a bunch more people that have competitions under their belt, so it was really fun for us to show the rest of the freshmen how to be a Seawolf out there.”
Despite the uncertainty of the program’s future over the past few years, she elected to stay and stick it out because of the program that made her feel so welcome after arriving on campus from Mesa, Arizona.
“Ever since I’ve been here, I just felt like Alaska was home,” Decious said. “I came here on a visit and the team that was here before was very nice and made me want to come here ... We worked really hard in the preseason and now that hard work is paying off.”