UAA's McCarthy Named GNAC Coach of the Month
Alaska Anchorage head coach Ryan McCarthy is in his second year at the helm of the Seawolf program.
Alaska Anchorage head coach Ryan McCarthy is in his second year at the helm of the Seawolf program.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. – A 4 a.m. departure from Anchorage on New Year’s Day was a homecoming of sorts for Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball coach Ryan McCarthy, who began the journey to Nampa, Idaho, with his team to face his alma mater in a Great Northwest Athletic Conference game on Thursday.

McCarthy played and coached basketball at Northwest Nazarene University for a decade, yet it is his current residence in Anchorage that he considers his true home. “I grew up in Peters Creek just outside of Anchorage, and my dad used to take me to the Great Alaska Shootout,” McCarthy said referring to the historic annual basketball tournament that he has now coached in for two seasons. “The Seawolves were the local team and it was something I’ve always wanted to be a part of.”

Not only is McCarthy a part of the rich basketball culture in Anchorage, he is in command of a team that is thriving atop the GNAC standings. The Seawolves began their 2013-14 campaign 9-1, including a perfect 4-0 month of December that earned McCarthy GNAC Coach of the Month honors.

Two of UAA’s biggest wins of the season came early on in December, when McCarthy’s squad defeated preseason favorite Montana State Billings and Seattle Pacific in the span of three days. “Those two teams are very good, and it was huge for us to take advantage of them traveling to Alaska,” McCarthy commented on the victories. “This is a really tough league, but the girls have bought into what we are trying to do and work really hard.”

McCarthy’s roster – which was slated to finish sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll – features seven underclassmen and just one senior, and seven of his players are in their first season in the GNAC. “The biggest transition you have to make whether it is from high school or junior college is that players have to realize how high the level of play is in this league,” McCarthy commented on preparing more than half of his roster for its first games in the GNAC. “We were cautiously optimistic on how the talent would come together, but we have been lucky enough to stay healthy and our assistant coaches have been instrumental in terms of game preparation,” McCarthy said referencing the efforts of assistants Alex Carlson and Shaina Afoa.

After an 11-day layoff, UAA resumes conference play on Thursday against another top team in NNU. “It will be good to see some familiar faces, but they are one of the tougher teams in our league and it’s a hard road trip,” McCarthy commented on the bittersweet reality of returning to Nampa. “I had a unique experience at NNU but I loved my time there,” McCarthy said.

During his injury-prolonged five-season playing career at NNU, McCarthy received direction from four different coaches. “I was recruited by former athletic director Rich Sanders, who became the coach during my freshman season,” McCarthy remembered. After that, it was Ed Weidenbach, Mike Terpstra – whose daughters are now All-Conference volleyball players at NNU – and Tim Hills who guided McCarthy through his collegiate campaign. “My wife, who I met at NNU, and I played professionally in Germany for a season, and then I came back to NNU and coached for the next five years,” McCarthy said.

While Nampa had become familiar and homelike, it was always within McCarthy’s hopes to one day return to Seawolf nation. “(Coaching at Alaska) was always the ‘pie in the sky’ to me, but I never really envisioned my career taking this turn.” McCarthy made it clear that he is thrilled that his career shifted, calling his 2013-14 squad perhaps the most uniquely competitive group he has ever been a part of. “I’ve had some teams in the past with a lot of character, but there’s just something special about this year’s team,” McCarthy said. “The depth and commitment level is unique on this team.”

From the days of his youth to his career as a player and now as a coach, McCarthy has undoubtedly possessed a special bond with GNAC basketball. Perhaps his current success in his home in Alaska is the sweetest touch of all, as the Seawolves are figuring to make a run at the GNAC title. “Anchorage holds a really special place in my life,” said McCarthy. “I learned how to play basketball here, and to be able to come back and be part of it is a true blessing.”