First Impressions: Chance Meeting Lands Pluharova At UAA
It was Vera Pluharova's blocking ability that impressed Chris Green in 2015. In 2019, she finished 21st in Division II with 1.27 blocks per set.
It was Vera Pluharova's blocking ability that impressed Chris Green in 2015. In 2019, she finished 21st in Division II with 1.27 blocks per set.
Pluharova (No. 9, front row) poses with members of the Alaska Anchorage volleyball team following the teams' match in the Czech Republic in 2015.
Pluharova (No. 9, front row) poses with members of the Alaska Anchorage volleyball team following the teams' match in the Czech Republic in 2015.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020
by Blake Timm, Assistant Commissioner for Communications

ANCHORAGE – When head coach Chris Green took his Alaska Anchorage volleyball team on a preseason tour of Europe in August 2015, he expected it to be a warm-up for a team that would provide the foundation for a Division II national title match run in 2016.

What he did not expect it to be, however, was a recruiting trip.

In the second match of the Seawolves’ tour, a five-set battle with TJ Slavia Hradec Kralove, the blocking ability of the club team’s captain caught Green’s eye. She was every bit the equal of the Seawolves’ blockers, which finished 2015 ranked eighth in Division II in blocks per set.

Two years later, that team captain, Vera Pluharova, was on the Alaska Anchorage roster.

“We played them twice,” Green recalls. “We didn’t see her a lot but she definitely stood out. She was really tall and her blocking stood out. She gave our hitters a lot of problems at the net.”

Then a junior in high school, Pluharova had never considered that she could continue to play volleyball beyond her club years. It took some time for her to digest the potential to continue her career.

“After the game, Coach Green talked to me. He said, ‘Hey, if you’re interested you can come to Alaska and play for us,’” Pluharova said. “I wasn’t sure what he meant at first because in (the Czech Republic) we don’t have school teams, scholarships or anything like that.”

Green’s decision to pursue Pluharova as a player and Pluharova’s eventual decision to pursue a career at Alaska Anchorage has proven positive. In 2019, she finished sixth in the GNAC with a .293 hitting percentage, trailing only All-American Eve Stephens on the Seawolves. That included 10 matches where she hit .300 or better.

And she has proven that she can not only block with the best of the Seawolves but also with the best in Division II. Pluharova finished 2019 ranked third in the GNAC and 21st in Division II with 1.27 blocks per set. The feat is more impressive when you consider that the GNAC ranked three teams and four players in the Division II top-50 in blocking.

With as much as Pluharova has been an example on the court, she has grown into a role as a team leader at Alaska Anchorage that has allowed the squad to continue to perform as one of the top programs in Division II.

After that chance meeting in August 2015, it took a while for Pluharova to fathom that she could continue to play volleyball in the United States. Honestly, Pluharova said, she didn’t think that she was good enough to pursue her career past her Czech club program.

The more research she did, though, the more she realized what a great opportunity was in front of her.

“I needed some time to think about it and learn what it really meant. I didn’t know where (Alaska) was at all,” Pluharova said. “I did some research and found a company that helps Czech students come to the United States and play sports. I started working with them and they helped me know what to do, what exams to take, what to do in order to get my visa.”

It took about a year for Pluharova to decide to commit to Green and Alaska Anchorage. Upon arrival, she was blown away by the support that the Seawolves enjoy in Anchorage. During 2017, her freshman season, Alaska Anchorage led Division II in attendance with an average of 1,075 fans per game over 14 home matches.

The atmosphere in the Alaska Airlines Center was unlike anything she had ever experienced. “There is so much energy,” Pluharova said. “I want to play not just for myself but for all of the people around me. It’s amazing. Usually after home games, I can’t sleep. That’s how excited I am after home games.”

Pluharova spent much of her freshman season on the bench, playing just 13 matches. She joined the regular starting rotation as a sophomore, amassing a .211 hitting percentage while leading the team with an average of 1.19 blocks per set.

In 2019, Pluharova emerged as an undisputed team leader. Her hitting ability and blocking prowess helped lead the Seawolves to a second-place GNAC finish and a trip to the NCAA West Regional semifinals, where UAA lost in four sets to eventual national champion Cal State San Bernardino.

The consistent improvement of Pluharova from club player to freshman to upperclassman stands out to Green. “On the court, she has improved as much as anyone over the last four years,” he said. “Sometimes at this level, we get players who are already good and plateau. Not Vera. She has steadily improved.”

Equally as impressive, according to Green, is Pluharova’s growth as a leader. While she has always been the type of player to lead by example, Green has watched Pluharova develop into the type of vocal leader that her teammates respect.

“We try to get players to lead in ways they are comfortable with. She has stepped out of her shell and she is becoming a much more vocal leader as a senior,” Green said. “Day in and day out, her work in the weight room and on the court shows that they can continue to improve and step into leadership roles.”

As an upperclassman, Pluharova takes that leadership role seriously. “I feel much more responsible for the younger players,” she said. “Seawolf volleyball is something that needs to be really good. The girls must be committed. I feel like I should lead by example and show the younger girls what it means to play volleyball here.”

As a leader, Pluharova recognizes that a 2020-21 season may not happen thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of looking at the negatives of a potential lost season, however, she is looking at the positives that the forced change can bring. In essence, the Seawolves are being provided a yearlong preseason.

“Even though we might not get to play this year, we have a full year to get better and prepare for next year,” Pluharova said. “We have so much time to practice and work out. Usually, our preseason only lasts about three weeks. Now we have a full year. So I think we should take this time and really work hard to get as good as possible.”

Before that fateful day in 2015, Pluharova had no idea where Alaska was. Five years later, as many who matriculate to the Last Frontier do, she has fallen in love with the state.

Unable to travel back to the Czech Republic last summer due to the pandemic, Pluharova took advantage of all that Alaska has to offer. That included a lot of hiking, backpacking and kayaking.

It was a special kind of summer for someone who loves the outdoors.

“If you come to Anchorage you see mountains everywhere. It is beautiful,” Pluharova said. “And even though Alaska is part of the U.S., it is so different. It is like the difference between a large city and a small village. Alaska is the small village. It is so different and so unique.”

The opportunity to be outdoors helped temper some feelings of homesickness. The Czech Republic was hit hard by COVID-19 and Pluharova said it was hard to not be in her hometown of Nechanice, located approximately 60 miles northeast of Prague, to be there for her family.

For much of her career, Pluharova’s family has experienced her success from a distance.

“My mom especially loves it,” she said. “She watches all of the games and each one she sends me a text message saying ‘good job’ or ‘don’t worry, you’ll win the next one.’ She loves it. I wish she could come and watch me play here.”

Pluharova remains hopeful that her mother can come to the United States and watch her sometime in 2021, maybe for senior night. And while she misses seeing her family in person on a regular basis, she is grateful that her chance meeting with Chris Green five years ago turned into an Alaska Anchorage volleyball career.

“I knew that it was a great opportunity and I didn’t want to waste it,” Pluharova said. “I knew that if I said no that I would regret it in the future. You can always go back if it’s not a good experience but if you say no you can’t undo it. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity.”