The University of Alaska Anchorage volleyball team will have a new yet familiar head coach at the helm coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history in which the Seawolves broke records and finished as Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season champions.
Taking over for longtime head coach Chris Green is one of his former players and assistants, Stacie Meisner, who was promoted from within this past spring following Green’s resignation last winter.
Meisner played libero for the Seawolves from 2008 to 2010 after following her predecessor to the Last Frontier as a junior college transfer when Green was hired at UAA. She served as an assistant coach since 2019 after a couple of stints as a graduate assistant.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have a great mentor in coach Green and the opportunity to learn a lot from him about the game and about the coaching side of things,” Meisner said. “I feel very confident in having that foundation, and I’m excited to take this program into its next chapter under my style of leadership and my style of coaching and see what we can do.”
A more personal approach to coaching
Despite being in her first season, Meisner said expectations will remain high for UAA.
“I think my style of coaching is still highly competitive,” she said. “We’re still here trying to win championships.”
Meisner believes that any good coach is going to “stay true to their personality” and has put an emphasis on being “more personable” with the players.
“Just forming that personal connection with them and forming those authentic relationships with them throughout the coaching process,” Meisner said. “I think we, as a team, really worked hard during preseason on building trust with each other. Not just from teammate to teammate, but also from the players and the coaching staff.”
She believes that those deeper interpersonal bonds help the players learn faster, build better chemistry on the court, be more open with each other and not be afraid to make mistakes.
“That’s the type of culture and atmosphere that’s going to help this team progress at the rate that we need to find success this year,” Meisner said.
Senior outside hitter Nicole Blue is one of several Seawolves slated to have more prominent roles this year. She appreciates the parallels and differences in the approaches that her new coach has compared to Green.
Blue said she and her teammates are grateful that the athletic department decided to stay in-house to find Green’s replacement because of Meisner’s familiarity with the players and program overall.
“I think it’s good that it’s not like a complete 180 (degree turn),” she said. “We are able to still lean on the old skills that we have and we can refer to past training and know that it’s consistent. (Meisner) was obviously coached by coach Green so she knows it works and she’s able to deliver that.”
Having open conversations about their expectations and goals helps them stay on the same page and headed in the same direction as a team and overall program.
“I think we have a lot of raw talent that just needs to be refined,” Blue said. “(Meisner and UAA assistant coach Morgan Hooe) created a very healthy environment, and I think that’ll help build up some of that new talent and we’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Filling big shoes while forging a new path to success
Losing one All-American and program legend can leave a massive hole on a roster let alone losing two.
That tall task is what lies ahead for the Seawolves this year after losing star outside hitter Eve Stephens and setter Ellen Floyd to graduation following a historic 2022 season.
“We lost four really great players from last year,” Meisner said. “Eve and Ellen were obviously All-American players but also we lost Talia Leauanae as a libero and Lisa Jaunet as an outside hitter.”
While she acknowledges those are some big shoes to fill, Meisner said the coaching staff emphasizes to the players that they’re not looking for them to replace those players but rather “fill the void with who they are as players.”
“We’ve got a lot of talent on the team and a lot of hard workers who are eager to jump in there and show what they can do,” Meisner said. “They understand what Seawolf volleyball is all about, and they’re ready to work hard and take things game by game. They’re committed to the process of getting better.”
What worked for last year’s team won’t necessarily work for this year’s because there are always different players and team dynamics.
“Figuring out what works for us is going to be different for each team,” said Blue, who was named as a GNAC preseason all-conference team selection. “We’re not ever going to get a player like Ellen or Eve again, so I think just like finding our success and knowing how to work as a team and using that to find success.”
The players are “super excited” to get the season underway and have a little extra motivation after being picked fifth in the preseason conference poll.
“We’re ranked fifth this year in the GNAC, which is obviously a big number coming out from being reigning champions,” Blue said.
UAA will officially begin its 2023 campaign this weekend at the Alaska/Hawaii Challenge in Fairbanks with the first game taking place at 1 p.m. Friday against the Chaminade University Silverswords, which was the same team that handed the Seawolves a shocking upset loss last year’s NCAA DII West Regional Championship tournament.