FAIRBANKS—The Great Northwest Athletic Conference volleyball standings don’t show it, but Alaska Nanooks head coach Phil Shoemaker sees similarities between his team and the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves.
The ninth-place Nanooks are aiming for their first conference win of 2012 and an end to an eight-game skid when they face their intrastate rival tonight in Anchorage.
Heading into the 7 o’clock contest at UAA’s Wells Fargo Sports Complex, the Nanooks are 0-4 conference and 2-8 overall. The Seawolves are 3-1 and 8-4, respectively, and share fourth place with Montana State Billings.
“We’re both young and I think we’re both pretty athletic,’’ Shoemaker, during a telephone interview Thursday night, said of the Nanooks and Seawolves. “I know there’s a lot of rivalry interest and passion that will certainly be involved in the game.”
The Nanooks have six freshmen compared to five for the Seawolves. Rookies are also among the statistical leaders for the Nanooks.
Samantha Harthun leads the team with 2.89 kills per set, which also ranks 10th in the GNAC. Setter Katlyn Mataya’s team-best average of 9.65 assists is the fifth highest in the conference.
Nanooks senior libero Allison Oddy ranks 10th in the GNAC for digs at 3.86 per set.
Another similarity is that the Nanooks coaches tried to recruit several of the players who decided to become Seawolves.
One of them was Julia Mackey, a former West Valley High School standout who’s among three UAA freshmen outside hitters who rank in the top 12 in the GNAC for kills per set. Mackey is eighth with an average of 3.14 kills per set, while Katelynn Zanders is third (3.59) and Sarah Johnson 12th (2.83).
The Nanooks coaches even had a nickname for Mackey when she played for West Valley — The Beast.
“When she was at the high school level, she was a woman among girls because she was vastly superior physically to everyone else on the court,’’ Shoemaker said. “I know that at the college level she’s kind of in her element. She’s a great kid and she’s obviously competes very hard.”
“She was one of the those players in Fairbanks who we knew had a real passion for the game,’’ Shoemaker added.
Shoemaker has seen passion in practices this week after the Nanooks suffered losses last week to Saint Martin’s in Lacey, Wash., and at Western Oregon.
“I like the mood in our practices, particularly this week. It’s been a little edgy,’’ Shoemaker said. “The players have goals and they’re working hard. Maybe they’re a little dissatisfied with the way things are going and they want to make sure we have a better outcome this weekend.
“The kids have great attitudes, they’re very competitive and they have every intention of going down to UAA and winning the game,’’ Shoemaker added.