Last week, if you happened to be nosing around the Alaska Airlines Center (AAC), you would have found UAA’s mighty Div. I gymnasts in good spirits, helping to unload two 18-wheelers full of mats and equipment for their new gym. They weren’t averse to putting in a little manual labor to get their new digs up and running.
Along with 12 returning athletes and four newcomers, Coach Paul Stoklos is excited to start the 2014–15 season under a new roof. After successfully completing their pre-season orthopedic evaluations and watching installers from American Athletic Inc. (you’ll notice that AAI logo on gymnastics equipment around the globe) bolt their new equipment in place over the holiday weekend, the team was looking forward to trying it all out this week at their first conditioning sessions in the AAC.
For the first time in his 30 years as coach here at UAA, Coach Stoklos won’t have to shepherd the whole team across town to practice. Instead, the women, most of whom are living in student housing, can walk over to the AAC to their purpose-built practice gym for conditioning and practice.
“We’ve just given them about 40 minutes of their day back,” said Coach Stoklos, explaining that while commute time to practice each day doesn’t count against their maximum 20 hours of practice time per week (an NCAA standard), it still eats into the tightly scheduled lives of student athletes.
And these women take their practices and their academics seriously. Coach Stoklos has the women set their own practice time. Led by a team captain—for the last two years it’s been Morgan Cook—they work together to land on a schedule that meets everyone’s needs. This year, they’ll primarily be working out in the 7:30–11:30 a.m. window. But the great news, said the coach, is that they have unfettered access to practice facilities, so if a student-athlete needs to take a morning class to meet her major requirements, she can easily come work out in the afternoon. Last year, their team boasted a combined GPA of 3.4, so it seems they’re hitting that sweet spot balancing academics and athletics.
“The girls are much more excited and motivated. People are going to be walking by and watching them practice. How cool is that?” said Coach Stoklos, pointing out the floor to ceiling windows looking into the practice facility. “The girls know we can get the time in the gym that we need, and adjust schedules. We just didn’t have those options before.”
Season preview and community engagement
Competition for the gymnasts doesn’t begin until January 2015, but they’ll be putting in their practice hours at the gym in the months leading up to that. You’ll have the chance to preview the team in action in their intrasquad Green and Gold meet on Dec. 13, too. They’re slated to host four home meets this year and would love to hear you cheering in the stands of the auxiliary gymnasium where most meets will be staged.
In March, the team also gets its first opportunity to host the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships. For that, they’ll be migrating equipment over to the performance arena to accommodate everyone.
While the new facilities are a great fit for the team, Coach Stoklos, his assistant coach and their student-athletes are actively looking for ways to forge connections with the Anchorage gymnastics community.
“We have a couple clinics already planned for the fall semester—two Girl Scout clinics—and we’re doing something really big on Saturday the 6th, the day after the grand opening,” said the coach. “We’re going to have an open house and we’re inviting competitive team kids from the five gymnastics clubs to come.”
At the invitation-only event, he wants to showcase what a great place UAA is for gymnastics to community parents and kids. Many of the student-athletes spend their summers working as coaches for young gymnasts and now they’re perfectly placed to host community clinics and help give Alaska gymnasts a leg up on the competition and, maybe someday, cheer for these up-and-comers as they don the Seawolf Green and Gold.
See the full gymnastics schedule and team roster at Goseawolves.com.
Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement