Burns, Seawolves Set for Regional Playoffs
UAA senior Kylie Burns (right) is averaging 12.2 points per game and has provided a major leadership role as the lone senior on the team this season.
UAA senior Kylie Burns (right) is averaging 12.2 points per game and has provided a major leadership role as the lone senior on the team this season.
Burns is shooting 37.7 percent from 3-point range this season, the second-best mark on the team.
Burns is shooting 37.7 percent from 3-point range this season, the second-best mark on the team.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
by Evan O'Kelly, Media Relations Assistant

POMONA, Calif. – For Alaska Anchorage senior women’s basketball player Kylie Burns, the disappointment of a quarterfinal loss in the 2013-14 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships was magnified by the notion that it would be her final collegiate basketball game.

“Honestly I thought I had played my last basketball game,” Burns said of the 58-48 loss at the hands of host Saint Martin’s.

When the NCAA West Region selections were announced Sunday evening, Burns and her teammates sat together in their team room watching in anxious anticipation. As the camera focused in on the West portion of the bracket, it didn’t take long for the team to react, as they were the second team announced in the region as the No. 8 seed.

“I was so pumped and happy because I know how hard it is to get in,” Burns said regarding her reaction to the news. “I’m on a team that gets to experience what its like and it is going to be a lot of fun.”

While Burns and the Seawolves were ecstatic to have been included in the regional field, the senior also acknowledged that earning a berth is just the first step for her squad. “It’s not just about getting in, it’s about doing something once you get there,” Burns said. “We want to approach it like it’s just another game, but obviously we will be playing for something more.”

Facing UAA in the first round is No. 1 seed and host school Cal Poly Pomona, which enters the tournament with a record of 22-6. While the task is a tall one, the Seawolves have shown on numerous occasions this season that they are a team that can get hot at the right time.

UAA opened its 2013-14 campaign by winning nine of its first 10 games and boasting a perfect 8-0 mark against Division II opponents. Two of those victories came against Montana State Billings and Seattle Pacific to open GNAC play, and were games in which the Seawolves were considered the clear underdog.

“Almost half of our team was new this year, but we have just meshed from the beginning,” Burns said regarding a roster with four freshmen and three junior college transfers. “We have really good team chemistry, and it’s big for us to be able to get along and enjoy being around each other in our first year together.”

Burns was born and raised in Kansas City, Kan., where she honed her skills on the basketball court in the local YMCA league as a kid. “I remember playing since I was four years old,” Burns said when asked about her basketball origins. “My dad always made me play on the boys’ teams at first when I was younger which was always a challenge.”

Burns excelled at basketball through her teenage years and committed herself to the sport in high school while running cross-country and track as well. “I played AAU ball in high school and was told by a junior college coach that I could probably play at the Division II level,” Burns said about her first thoughts of playing college basketball. “For me it was about realizing where you best fit, and that is what’s most important.” 

It wasn’t until a late letter of intent signing at the end of May, 2009 that Burns was officially headed to Anchorage, as she ventured 3,600 miles from her home town to begin her collegiate career.

“One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to face is having to work with a lot of different people and getting to know new people quickly,” Burns said of the transition to life in Alaska and currently being the lone senior on the Seawolves’ roster.

Burns was quickly introduced to the basketball culture in Anchorage, as she took in the scene at the historic Great Alaska Shootout during her freshman year. 

“I didn’t know anything about it until the recruiting process,” Burns said regarding the annual early-season tournament. “I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was at first, but that has really been one of my favorite times of the year and it is a big stage to be a part of.”

Perhaps the biggest transition of all for Burns was the adjustment she made when Ryan McCarthy assumed head coaching duties at the beginning of Burns’ junior season. “It was a little scary at first because you never know what a new coach is going to be like,” Burns said about McCarthy taking command. “It has definitely ended up being a good thing and he has done a great job working with us. I have really enjoyed the last two years.”

In his second season at the helm, McCarthy guided the Seawolves back into the GNAC tournament after UAA won five of its final six regular-season contests.

Burns emerged as a leader all season long, averaging 12.2 points per game and a team-high 6.9 rebounds in her final collegiate season. She is also shooting a GNAC eighth-best 37.7 percent from 3-point range, and has contributed 42 steals to UAA’s NCAA Division II second-best 14.5 per contest.

Now with a regional playoff game ahead this week, Burns has noticed a shift in mindset not only within herself but across her team as a whole.

“When we played Saint Martin’s last week I was really nervous and kept thinking about how it could be my last game,” Burns said of the heartbreaking defeat. “I don’t feel like that anymore.

“We just need to play fearless and realize that there is nothing to be afraid of or star-struck by.”