UAF Volleyball tunes up with Blue & Gold scrimmage ahead of California trip
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Friday night would have been the season-opener for the University of Alaska Fairbanks volleyball program against their in-state rivals, the University of Alaska Anchorage. The two-game series was ultimately postponed due to COVID-19 protocols and was replaced with a Blue and Gold intrasquad scrimmage in preparation for UAF’s California road trip. Although it wasn’t an official match, one couldn’t tell by the energy on the court, as the two teams split up within the Nanook program left it all on the Patty Center floor.
It has been over 15 months (November 23, 2019) since the UAF Volleyball program played an official match and newcomer Ainsley Smith has completed two seasons at North Pole High School since then. Smith joined the Nanooks a semester early after graduating from North Pole in December and is fitting right in with her new squad.
“Oh it has been awesome I literally love everybody on the team, it is just like such a warm environment,” Smith said after the scrimmage. “We all just love to hang around each other when we are in practice and out of practice.”
Just a few months removed from playing prep volleyball, Smith says the pace of play and competition intensifies at the collegiate level. She will be joined by fellow Patriot Kinley Erickson in the Fall 2021 semester.
Helping the freshmen transition to college are the five seniors, Markie Miller, Lahra Weber, AveRee Reynolds, Emily Moorhead and Cate Whiting.
“They have warmed up right away,” Whiting said of the newcomers. “I mean the freshmen are telling the freshmen what to do, the seniors are telling what the freshmen to do, and the freshmen are telling the seniors what to do, so it is all vibing really well right now.”
Also being introduced to the collegiate level this year, freshmen Rilee White, Karli Nielson and Miya Ohms, of Taichung, Taiwan, who is spending her first winter in Fairbanks.
“We do fun things like sledding and snow stuff, and I think that helps a lot when its darker,” Ohms said. “You can get stuck inside easily so it has helped with the transition a lot.”
Team Gold defeated Team Blue in four sets, 29-27, 12-25, 25-22 and 25-21, capped off by a Moorhead kill to close the match. Out of Chugiak High School, Moorhead has spent the last four years on the UAF Campus, helping lead the school to 14 and 15 wins in the last two years respectively, the most out of the program since 2008.
“When my class came in as freshmen, we had a pretty set goal to change the culture here and I feel like this is finally the year where it is really setting in, so I am just really excited going in with this new culture we have.”
Part of that culture shift begins off the court - and certainly begins with head coach Brian Scott - who described what makes this year’s team so special.
“I honestly can say I have never, in my entire coaching career, had a group that just gels [like this],” Scott said, heading into his sixth year with the program. “They’re best friends on the court, they’re best friends off the court, these guys just get along. They love being around each other and I have never seen a group like that before. It is pretty special.”
While the two Alaskan programs hope to reschedule their two games in April, the ‘Nooks turn their attention toward their California trip next week. UAF’s first official match of their condensed spring season will come Monday when they visit Azusa Pacific University, before taking on Concordia University (California) in Irvine on Tuesday. The Nanooks are expected to make their Patty Center debut March 19 against Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponent Northwest Nazarene. No spectators will be allowed to attend, but the match, along with all home matches, will be streamed on the Alaska Nanooks Youtube page.
The good news for all involved, student-athletes will not lose a year of eligibility no matter the amount of games played this year, which means the Nanooks can continue to build at full strength, with a full season, in the fall.
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