Scheduling conflict prevents UAA from hosting regional NCAA volleyball championships

Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 9:17 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The University of Alaska Anchorage volleyball program capped off a 27-2 season Saturday by sweeping Saint Martin’s, winning the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season title and earning the number one seed out of the NCAA’s Division II West Region.

The reward for a team nabbing the top seed is being able to host the eight-team, three-day tournament in front of their home fans.

However, a scheduling conflict with the Women’s Great Alaska Shootout basketball tournament the same weekend as volleyball regionals is preventing UAA from hosting both tournaments, and the NCAA DII West Regional Championships will be held at Western Washington in Bellingham instead.

“It is tough, disappointing for our fans, especially our players,” UAA volleyball head coach Chris Green said. “We are trying to fuel that — emotion, that disappointment, anger, whatever it is — we want to channel that into fuel for what is about to come on Thursday.”

The Women’s Great Alaska Shootout — a four team tournament that features three Division I programs and hosted by UAA — is scheduled for Friday and Saturday with 5:15 and 7:30 p.m. tip-offs, while the NCAA DII West Regional Championships are scheduled for four matches on Thursday, two more on Friday and one on Saturday.

The University says they made an effort to host both tournaments, but the NCAA was unwilling to rearrange match times for the volleyball tournament.

“We just tried to make it obvious from our perspective that we had a viable solution here to host the Regional in Anchorage, and we asked for a deviation on match times for the second round (Friday), to start the second round earlier in the day,” First-year Athletic Director Ryan Swartwood said. “No flexibility there, I mean the NCAA has their prescribed match times, and they let me know that they were set in terms of their prescribed match times, and uniformity in match times, and the uniformity of match times across all regions is something they pointed out.”

The Great Alaska Shootout schedule was released in August and has in the works for some time as the University has been preparing for the much anticipated return of the storied tournament for the first time since 2017.

”We talked about moving the Shootout times back, later on in the day to be able to accommodate a different schedule,” Swartwood added. “Ultimately, we have so many tickets out in the community for the Shootout — as well as all of the different resources we have invested into marketing the Shootout — moving the times earlier in the day was not feasible.”

Western Washington, the number two seed and newly appointed host for the West Regional Tournament, also has a women’s basketball tournament scheduled for the same weekend — the 2022 Lynda Goodrich Classic. However, the university was able to reschedule the start times to earlier in the day to accommodate for the volleyball tournament. The Western Washington University athletic department declined to comment on the rescheduling of their basketball tournament or the West Region Volleyball tournament.

Swartwood says discussions with the NCAA to be able to host both events started in early October as the possibility of UAA hosting the postseason tournament became a reality. He also added that the NCAA volleyball tournament is a “revenue-neutral” tournament, meaning the university would not receive any of the money coming in the doors through ticket sales or concessions.

“From a Shootout perspective, we are really excited to bring that back as an annual tradition,” Swartwood said. “There is no doubt from our perspective that we’re really focused, from a revenue-generation perspective, in terms of making sure that we continue to bring in private revue and to continue bring in private revenue and to make our program as sustainable as we can going forward.”

Success at this level for the UAA volleyball program is not something new, having hosted the very same NCAA DII West Regional Championships in 2015 and 2016. While any possible frustrations within the team remain internal, former players of the program are using their platform to voice grievances.

”I was overcome with shock and anger and sadness for the girls,” said former UAA volleyball standout and Anchorage native Morgan Hooe, who competed in the 2015 and 2016 NCAA West Regional Tournament. “I could not imagine winning it outright and not being able to host.”

“Why did they prioritize the Shootout over the West Region? Why couldn’t we have done more? The girls have earned this moment, they deserve to host it, they are the number one seed, they deserve to be playing in front of their home crowd. Why can’t we give them that?”

“I was really disappointed,” added Brooke Baker-Pottle, a UAA outside-hitter from 2013-14 and a former assistant coach from 2019-21. “We know how much the community comes together for the volleyball team and not being able to celebrate them in this way is just really disappointing. I just feel really terrible for the girls, because they worked so hard, this is the best season that they’ve ever had, just about, and to not being able to really go out with a bang with them on that is just really heartbreaking.”

When asked if the university would do anything differently if presented with the situation again, Swartwood said the university was “very hopeful that the path that we had worked out in terms of the schedule would be approved and we worked very hard making the best case we possibly could, but at the end of the day, the decision was made to take the regional to Bellingham.”

“The message [to the volleyball program] is first and foremost, just congratulating them and just making sure that we know how proud that we are of them,” Swartwood said. “Our volleyball student-athletes and our coaching staff, they’re competitors and they’re going to go Bellingham and they’re going to compete for a Regional Championship.”

The volleyball program departs to Washington Tuesday, where fans and supporters can send them off with well-wishes at the Alaska Airlines Center at 11:30 a.m. before their first round matchup with #8 Chaminade at 1:30 p.m. AST on Thursday.

The Women’s Great Alaska Shootout begins Friday night when LaSalle and Pepperdine hit the floor, also at the Alaska Airlines Center, at 5:15 p.m. The Seawolves take on UC Riverside later at 7:30 p.m.