Jahnna Hajdukovich wasn’t born with a basketball in her hands.
But her parents, Jim and Michelle Hajdukovich, agree it happened shortly after she came into the world.
“I think when she was born someone probably brought one to the hospital,” Michelle said.
Even before she could crawl or walk, the daughter of the two former University of Alaska Anchorage basketball players was becoming saturated in the sport that was a passion on both sides of her family.
“As soon as she started crying, we just gave her a little rubber ball to suck on when her teeth were coming in,” Jim said.
That was 23 years ago. Now Jahnna Hajdukovich is on the precipice of earning her degree at UAA, is an integral player on the women’s basketball team and is a bride to be.
She and her fellow graduating seniors were honored on Senior Night prior to the team’s final home game of the season Saturday in what was an emotional moment for Jahnna and family.
“You don’t ever want to be done but you also want to live in the moment,” Jahnna said. “It was very special with my teammates and especially my family and my coaches. I’m very appreciative.”
While she said her family bleeds green and gold of UAA, the choice to become a Seawolf was always hers to make. Hajdukovich graduated from Dimond High School in 2018 after helping the Lynx capture a state title as a senior.
“It was kind of bittersweet,” Jim said. “She was getting recruited by St. Mary’s, which is (Division I), but we always knew that UAA is better than a lot of DI programs.”
They’re both incredibly grateful to have been able to watch their daughter play in person at every level, especially at the school that means so much to their family.
“It’s been such a blessing to our family, all these cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents and her fiancé's family,” Michelle said. “We’ve all been able to share in her journey here and be here for all these games and not just watch it on the streams.”
Her father was one of the greatest players in program history and was inducted into the Seawolf Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. Being able to play on the team that has deep roots within her family played a significant role in her decision, as did the opportunity to continue playing in front of friends and family.
“I think that was definitely playing into it but I think I also wanted to get my own stamp on the legacy of what I left behind,” Jahnna said. “My mom had hers, my dad had his, and I wanted to have my own and I wanted to put my own personal twist on it.”
She feels that with the Seawolves teams of the past few years, she’s accomplished the goals she set.
“I just take a lot of pride in being from the state of Alaska and the legacy I leave behind with these girls,” Jahnna said. “I’ll still be around for alumni games and all of those things so it means a lot.”
Comparing each of their careers at UAA is a topic that is “definitely talked about at the dinner table” and is playfully debated between father and daughter.
“I go back and forth with my dad -- ‘Hey, I’ve got rings, you don’t’ kind of thing -- so it’s definitely a competition within my family,” Jahnna said. “I’m just beyond grateful for the love and the support of the community and my family, my coaches, my team. I couldn’t have done it without any of them.”
‘Being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself’
As the oldest of four children and the only girl in the bunch, Hajdukovich was outnumbered in the household. Arriving on the campus of UAA allowed her to spend more time with more young women who were not only teammates but friends.
“They’re all like sisters she didn’t have at home,” Michelle said.
She views her time at UAA as a transformative experience that has helped her grow not only as a complete player but as a well-rounded individual as well.
“This program has really made me who I am,” Jahnna said. “It’s made me a better woman. It’s made me stronger. It’s made me a better leader, made me a better friend, a better teammate and I can just chalk it up to being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”
Looking back on her accomplishments, she is humbled and honored to have shared and achieved them with so many that she considers lifelong friends, people she says “will be a part of me forever.”
Several of her current and former teammates will be members of the bridal party in her wedding this summer.
Saving her best for last
Hajdukovich has been with the program for five years and feels she has learned more about herself this year. The Seawolves are 16-9 but only 8-8 in conference play and have struggled at times. With two games left in the regular season, UAA is on the cusp of reaching the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament but hasn’t secured a spot yet. UAA is in fourth place in the conference with six teams advancing to the tournament.
“With that adversity we’ve been hardened in the fact that we’ve been mentally stronger for it and we can push forward through those hard things,” she said. “Being tough is being comfortable when you’re not comfortable. I think we’ve been kind of uncomfortable this year but we’ve gotten accustomed to it and we’re breaking through that barrier and we just want one game after the other now.”
She is averaging career highs across the board and is currently the team’s second leading scorer behind junior Vishe’ Rabb with 282 points in 25 games with an average of 11.3 per game. She leads the team in 3-pointers with 53, and is third on the team in rebounds with 115 and steals with 31.
“I’m so proud of her, she’s been just a rock for us this year,” UAA Head Coach Ryan McCarthy said. “We just know what we’re going to get out of her every night. Some nights she gets hot and she’s that spark for us offensively and defensively. She’s always solid.
“She’s a great leader. I just believe when you have players like that, it just pays off for them. The game rewards that kind of hard work.”
Her dad believes the team is a classic example of a dangerous postseason outfit that no one wants to play, and he can’t wait to see what they do in the GNAC tournament if they punch their ticket.
“I’m excited to see how this season ends,” Jim said. “It might be something special.”
Life after basketball
Jim and Michelle Hajdukovich were high school sweethearts before they married. Jahnna is doing the same after graduation, marrying her high school sweetheart, Jesse Boese. Not surprisingly, Boese is a basketball player himself and won a state title with Dimond.
“It’s straight out of a fairytale book,” Jahnna said. “I’m committing into a lifetime with him which I’m beyond excited for but I’ve been married to (basketball) for a while so I got to break up with this and then move on to the next thing.”
The two got engaged last year on July 15, Boese’s birthday. They plan to wed in early June at her parents’ cabin near Harding Lake.
Planning a wedding is stressful enough but doing so while in her last year of college and being a full-time student-athlete was a different degree of difficulty entirely. But once again, having friends and family nearby has been a lifesaver.
“My parents have been amazing, my fiancé has been incredible, my team has been incredible, and I have three of my bridesmaids on my team,” Jahnna said.
Her parents were married the year they graduated and had Jahnna a year later. They both expect to be overwhelmed when she walks down the aisle as a bride.
“We have the leaky-eye syndrome a lot so we’re not afraid to say that there’s going to be some tears,” Michelle said. “Giving her away will be pretty tough for us.”