UAF Volleyball sweeps Northwest Nazarene in first home matches of 2021

Published: Mar. 20, 2021 at 8:38 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Friday signified the return of official competition at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Patty Center Gym after over 365 days of nonaction. UAF hosted fellow Great Northwest Athletic Conference foe Northwest Nazarene for a pair of matches, bringing together the entire Nanook Athletic Department.

Women’s Basketball coach Kerri Nakamoto handled the play-by-play coverage for the Alaska Nanooks YouTube page, while first-year swim coach Cameron Kainer took care of the public address announcing over the speakers. A trio of hockey players helped shag and sanitize the volleyballs, while a men’s basketball player was operating the livestream’s video camera. Hockey’s head coach Erik Largen, Rifle’s Will Anti and men’s basketball’s Greg Sparling showed their support in attendance, while UAF Chancellor Dan White and interim Athletic Director Steve Patin made appearances to both matches, among others who may not have been spotted out.

“It is a tight group here,” said volleyball head coach Brian Scott, whose wife was working the scorers table. “These athletes all love supporting each other. I guarantee if they allowed us, the upper deck would be packed full, every student-athlete would be here because they like supporting each other and they like being there to help each other out. It is just a close knit group and just really appreciate all the support here at the university.”

Friday UAF — 22-25, 27-25, 25-22, 20-25, 22-20

It had been 482 days since the Nanook volleyball program last took the Alaska Airlines Court for an official match, and although it was not the same scene (a fan attendance of 302 on November 23, 2019 compared to zero on Friday), UAF brought the same energy. The two GNAC programs traded blows for five straight sets, none of which were larger than a five-point difference.

For the fifth and decisive set, the score exceeded the necessary 15 points to victory, as neither team could secure the upper hand. After an NNU error, the Nanooks defeated the Nighthawks at the Patty Center for the first time since 2015.

“This helps us learn about each other, about how we play together,” Scott said of high-intensity matches. “I am great with that because we had a good mix with all of our seniors here and our freshman, I love to put them to test right away with that kind of stuff.”

Part of that mix includes senior AveRee Reynolds, who punched in 16 kills, while freshman Rilee White added 12 kills and four blocks in the win.

Sixteen months after their last home match, the Nanooks were content with occupying their home gym once again.

“It is so nice to be able to play at home against somebody else,” mentioned Reynolds “I mean, we have been practicing all the time, but having somebody else on the court really heightens the intensity and it was just super fun to be back and I wouldn’t want to be back with anybody else.”

Senior Cate Whiting was heavily involved throughout the five sets, dishing out a whopping 50 assists to go with 13 digs.

Typically competing in the fall, UAF Volleyball had only been practicing throughout the long, dark winter months, with freshman Karli Neilson experiencing her first Fairbanks winter.

“Everyone kept saying that it wasn’t as bad of a winter as it normally is, so I am thankful I got to warm up to that I guess, but I mean it was definitely still cold and I am kind of sick of the snow, but it is getting warmer so that is all I can say and be thankful for I guess,” Nielson said while sharing a laugh with Reynolds and Scott.

Statistical Leaders

AveRee Reynolds (16)Cate Whiting (3)Cate Whiting (50)Emily Moorhead (6)Dani Dodge (31)

Saturday UAF — 26-24, 29-27, 25-20

While Saturday’s scores were just as close, the Nanooks only needed three sets to put away the Nighthawks for a series and match sweep. The two programs exceeded the 25-point marker in the first two sets, with a score differential throughout the contest of just nine total points out of a minimum of six.

Freshman Rilee White, out of Odyssey High School in Arizona, impressed once again, scoring four of UAF’s final five points in the opening set on her way to nine kills.

“There is a lot of differences,” White said of the prep and collegiate levels. “I’d say the thing that has changed the most is just the people I am surrounded by on this team. I am surrounded by great players who I know are going to support me and encourage me, no matter if I am doing good or bad. I have people in the back row who are going to cover me every time I swing and I can take big swings and I think just the commitment, dedication and urgency that this team has is next level compared to high school. It has allowed us to succeed as much as we have so far.”

Whether it is a five-set thriller or a three-set sweep, the Nanooks try to maintain the same composure.

“I though generally we stayed really positive, there was not a lot of ups and downs, it was really consistent,” said senior Lahra Weber of Berlin, Germany, “You couldn’t tell if we were up or down ever I feel like. “It was really nice because it was like, ‘hey next ball, we’ll get this ball’ and most of the time we did.”

Thursday’s match ended at about 7:30 p.m. AKDT and the ‘Nooks had a quick turnaround to an 11 a.m. Saturday start. UAF was the fresher team, coming away with the clean sweep.

“I think that is a positive result of having this deep bench, because those who had to play five sets last night, they were able to get a little rest during the games with someone’s fresh legs coming in.” added Scott.

Statistical Leaders

Lahra Weber/Rilee White (9)Cate Whiting (2)Cate Whiting (22)Emily Moorhead (2)Dani Dodge (23)

The Nanooks improve to 3-2 on the season and will now travel to Anchorage to face the UAA Seawolves (3-0) for matches March 26-27.

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