PORTLAND, Ore. – Currently preparing for the program’s fifth consecutive playoff appearance, the Alaska Anchorage volleyball team landed two first-team honorees, two special awards and two honorable mention awards as the Great Northwest Athletic Conference announced its 2017 postseason accolades Wednesday.
Junior outside hitter Leah Swiss and senior libero Keala Kaio-Perez were among the 14 players to earn First Team All-GNAC recognition, while junior middle blocker Tara Melton was tabbed the GNAC co-Newcomer of the Year and setter Casey Davenport the GNAC Freshman of the Year. Davenport and junior outside hitter Chrisalyn Johnson were among another 14 players to earn honorable mention nods in voting by the league’s 11 head coaches.
Swiss, a 6-footer from Anchorage Dimond High School, was one of seven unanimous first-team choices this year. Now a three-time first-team performer, she is averaging 3.37 kills, 2.79 digs, 0.45 aces (2nd in GNAC) and 0.47 blocks per set, leading the defending NCAA Div. II Runners-Up to a 19-10 record and a tie for third place in the final GNAC standings.
Also a three-time GNAC All-Academic honoree, Swiss owns 15 double-doubles this year (36 career) and delivered her season-best 25 kills in UAA’s 5-set win over then-No. 10 Northwest Nazarene. Next season, Swiss will join 2017 GNAC Player of the Year Abby Phelps of Western Washington for the chance to become the second and third players in league history with four straight first-team awards. UAA’s Julia Mackey was the first to do it, from 2012-15.
Meanwhile, Kaio-Perez becomes the first libero in UAA history to earn first-team all-conference honors, pacing the Seawolves and ranking second in the overall GNAC stats with 5.30 digs per set. Coming back from an ACL tear suffered in Sept. 2016, the Waimanalo, Hawaii, native also leads the league in aces per set with 0.48, while she raised her game in league-only play with a GNAC-best 5.82 digs per set.
Kaio-Perez has four efforts with 30-plus digs and 13 matches with at least 20 digs, becoming the first player in program history to accumulate at least 50 aces and 500 digs in a season.
Melton becomes the sixth Seawolf in the last 10 years to earn the league’s Newcomer of the Year trophy, sharing this year’s honor with Angelica Kilberg of Simon Fraser. A transfer from Glendale (Ariz.) College – where she was an NJCAA All-American – Melton leads the Seawolves and ranks 10th in the league with 0.99 blocks per set. The 6-foot junior middle blocker is also averaging 1.40 kills on .203 hitting.
Davenport, a 5-6 setter from Mountainview High School in Auburn, Wash., was voted GNAC Freshman of the Year after raising her play during the second half of the season, averaging nearly 10 assists, 3.25 digs and 1.00 kills per set since the team switched to a ‘5-1’ rotation system. She dished a UAA season-high 53 assists in the 5-set road win over Concordia-Portland, and she has posted double-digit digs in 10 of the last 14 contests, including 29 in a win over nationally ranked Central Washington. Davenport is the fourth Seawolf to be dubbed GNAC Freshman of the year – all since 2012.
Joining Davenport with honorable-mention accolades, Johnson has posted 3.03 kills, 2.42 digs, 0.45 blocks and 0.26 aces per set, notching 11 double-doubles and double-digit kills in 19 matches. An NCAA All-Tournament Team selection at last year’s Elite Eight, the Dimond High product delivered a combined 40 kills and 33 digs in the wins over ranked Northwest Nazarene and Central Washington to earn AVCA National Player of the Week honors in October.
The Seawolves are the No. 7 seed for the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 NCAA West Regional Championships in Riverside, Cailf. UAA plays No. 2 seed and GNAC champion Western Washington in the second of four first-round matches that Thursday, at 1:30 p.m. AST.