Voliva Flourishes In Leadership Role For Alaska Anchorage
Tennae Voliva was the only UAA player to start all 33 games in 2019-29, averaging 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Photo by Skip Hickey.
Tennae Voliva was the only UAA player to start all 33 games in 2019-29, averaging 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Photo by Skip Hickey.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021
by Blake Timm, GNAC Assistant Commissioner For Communications

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – As players make their way through the Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball program, the coaching staff is always looking for who will be the next leaders of the program.

Head coach Ryan McCarthy takes those potential future leaders aside some time in their first two years and tells them that they are next in line for that leadership mantle. “If you want this, you could be that.”

When it came time for Tennae Voliva’s name to be called, McCarthy believes it came as a bit of a shock to the Anchorage native.

“I don’t think she ever expected to hear that coming from us, being that she wasn’t a big-name recruit,” McCarthy said. “After she heard that, it served as words for affirmation that gave her confidence.”

Voliva earned the chance. As a sophomore, the forward averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 33 games while playing behind 2018-19 GNAC Player of the Year Hannah Wandersee. Stepping into Wandersee’s shoes as a junior, Voliva started all 33 games, averaging 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game en route to earning Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors.

Voliva directly credits the influence of Wandersee into helping her grow into the role that helped Alaska Anchorage win its fifth GNAC regular-season championship since 2015 and its third GNAC Championships title in the same span.

“Hannah wasn’t the most vocal leader but she worked hard,” Voliva said. “I think she was a very mature leader. She handled pressure very well. I hope that those are some of the characteristics I can take as I go into my senior year.”

With Alaska Anchorage’s 2019-20 postseason run and 2020-21 season likely wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, the lessons that Voliva has picked up over the past few years are keeping to keep her teammates focused on keeping the Seawolves in the top-tier of Division II women’s basketball programs.

Homegrown talents are not an unusual find for McCarthy. But discovering Voliva at Anchorage’s East High School was a significant surprise.

Despite being a 1,000-point scorer and team leader for the Thunderbirds in a pair of top-four finishes at the Alaska 4A State Tournament, the 6-foot forward was far off the radar for most colleges. Initially, Voliva had signed with a junior college in Wisconsin before deciding that she would not be a good fit for that program.

McCarthy said he was drawn to Voliva’s athleticism and her ability to be effective wherever she was on the floor. “She had a good build and a lot of God-given attributes that made us think that she could really develop if she worked at it,” he said. “She was recruited based off of her potential.”

Voliva discovered that coming up within the Alaska Anchorage program would be a challenge, even for someone with a terrific work ethic.

“I knew a few of the girls in the program that I had played against in high school and they were always tough,” Voliva said. “I don’t think I knew how hard it was going to be. It is such a competitive team and the standard that the coaches hold us to are very high.”

That level of excellence was personified by Wandersee, a product of Kodiak. Voliva spent her first two years with the Seawolves apprenticing behind the All-American, accepting that it was going to be a while before she saw significant playing time.

“I didn’t do bad, but she was just Hannah,” Voliva said. “She knew the system and she was talented. I knew she was going to play more. It was tough at first but I think it made me buy in even more, seeing that she came from the same starting place that I did. She wasn’t handed anything.”

In her development as both a player and a leader, McCarthy started seeing the same qualities in Voliva that had turned Wandersee into a star.

“Hannah came out of nowhere for us and developed herself into what she ultimately became,” McCarthy said. “That was the blueprint that Tennae followed. Hannah would do extra stuff after practice and work really hard in the weight room. I think Tennae took that blueprint and applied it to herself, and we have seen this dramatic improvement.”

That improvement was tangible on the court. In her freshman season, Voliva averaged 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game while playing 9.4 minutes per contest. She doubled her numbers as a sophomore, averaging five points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

In her junior year, emerging from the shadow of Wandersee, Voliva finished as the Seawolves’ third-leading scorer with an average of 9.4 points per game. She finished fifth in the GNAC with 7.3 rebounds per game and third in steals with three per game. An Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection, Voliva was the only Seawolves player to start all 33 games.

In addition to the on-court accolades, Voliva also earned CoSIDA Academic All-District honors with her 3.83 GPA as a psychology major.

While Voliva admits waiting behind Wandersee was hard, it ultimately helped her hone the tools to step up as both a player and a leader.

“It just motivated me even more to watch everything she did, from the way she got up extra shots, her diet, taking care of her body,” Voliva said. “She took me under her wing. That comes from Hannah playing behind Megan Mullings. For each position, you can go down the line and name all of the great players who came through and taught the next person the way.”

The lessons that Voliva learned directly translate to the future direction of the program, lessons that McCarthy sees Voliva teaching to her teammates.

“For our program in general, we are at this point where people expect us to win,” he said. “But these kids have to make the same decisions that the kids before them that won championships had to make.”

McCarthy believes that there are three kinds of leaders in his program: the quiet leader who provides a solid base, the leader who echoes the messages of the staff and the alpha leader that takes that message and makes it her own, holding her teammates accountable. He believes that Voliva has arrived at that top tier of leadership, a testament to her exceptional growth.

“Her natural personality is quiet. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it is for her to vocally call out someone and the level of confidence that she has gained to be able to do that,” McCarthy said. “Now we are seeing this kid where it is important for her to win a championship, to leave a legacy and then leave here as someone who can lead people.”

With the 2020-21 season shelved thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Voliva sees her role as keeping her teammates focused on the future and making the most of every chance the Seawolves have to get better.

“We have struggled to get into our gym and we have had to do home workouts,” Voliva said. “It is even harder with it being so cold outside and we can’t always go out for a run. We have to get creative in the way that we stay in shape and stay together. Whether it is a 25-minute workout that we get in, we are going hard and getting ready for the next time that we do get to step on the floor.”

The year away from competition also gives Voliva the chance to instill in her teammates how special the state of Alaska is. Of the 15 players on the Alaska Anchorage roster, only five were in-state recruits.

“I feel like the community is a really big part of our program,” Voliva said. “We have had a couple of opportunities to get outside and show them what it is like to live here. I grew up here. I was born and raised here. I am used to the dark and the cold but it is definitely a big transition for people who aren’t from here.”

According to McCarthy, Voliva’s ability to relate to everyone on the team and the fact that she does not take her success for granted has helped keep the team bonded.

“She is not only a really good player for us but she is also, by far, our best leader,” he said. “During these times, the biggest issue I have seen with our team not being able to compete is holding people accountable. She is holding her teammates accountable to put in the work that it takes to be excellent and to maintain the standards that we have in the program. Tennae does a really good job of those things.”

With her psychology major, Voliva would like to work in children’s behavioral and mental health after graduation. Whatever she decides to do, McCarthy sees a young woman destined for success.

“I have a lot of respect for Tennae. She has made a huge transformation,” McCarthy said. “I am really happy for all of her success because it is not that God just blessed her with all of it. She succeeded because she earned it all. She really worked hard at it and earned it.”