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A 'mindset of joy' helped UAA gymnastics overcome obstacles this season

by Marci Suazo  |   

UAA gymnasts make Seawolf signs in a group huddle during a meet against Centenary. (Photo by Skip Hickey / UAA Athletics)
Seawolf gymnasts huddle during a meet against Centenary. (Photo by Skip Hickey / UAA Athletics)

On Saturday, UAA’s gymnastics team concluded a one-of-a-kind season in Davis, California, at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship. The team of 14 athletes finished fifth in the team standings with career highs from three Seawolf gymnasts. It was a solid ending to a season that had no shortage of challenges.

For the first time in its history, the gymnastics team competed solely on donated dollars. The athletes began fundraising when they learned in 2020 the program would be eliminated as the result of budget cuts to the university system from the State of Alaska. The team jumped into action — cold calling businesses, asking friends and family for support, even donating their hair for proceeds. COVID-19 canceled their season, so instead of competing, they fundraised.

Back at competition

The 2021-22 season was different. The team was able to practice and compete with fewer pandemic-related disruptions. Marie-Sophie Boggasch, head coach, UAA alumna and chief fundraiser, says the athletes focused more on competition and less on finding funding. 

“There is a lot of stress associated with [raising money]. I think this year, we were better at keeping it away from the team so that they could focus a little bit more on practicing,” she says.

But, the demand for dollars continued as the team traveled to competitions, competed regularly and scored points. They have raised $740,000 so far and must raise $192,000 more by June 30, 2022, in order to continue to compete next year and into the future.

Seawolf Gymnastics team member Alyssa Manley competes on the floor during a meet against Centenary. (Photo by Skip Hickey / UAA Athletics)
UAA gymnastics head coach Marie-Sophie Boggasch talks with gymnast Rachel Decious during a meet against Centenary. (Photo by Skip Hickey / UAA Athletics)

Learning throughout the season

Raising money wasn’t the only hurdle this season. Boggasch says a canceled 2020-21 season made an already inexperienced team — most gymnasts were freshman athletes — more inexperienced. That didn’t stop the team’s 11 freshmen, one senior who transferred to UAA and two veteran Seawolves from bringing their best to the floor.

“We were a really young and inexperienced team and you could definitely see that but we offset it by the sheer joy we put on on the competition floor. This year, it was never going to be about the scores. Everyone who went out [onto the floor] had a career-high because it was their first time competing. That mindset of joy on the competition floor was expanded by our situation,” says Boggasch.

If you look only at the scores this season, no school or event records were broken. But, many of the athletes scored career highs. Alyssa Manley, a sophomore studying social work, scored the third-highest average on the bars in UAA history.

“I can definitely tell the growth that I had, and the team had, from our first meet in December until this last competition. It was just amazing,” she says.

Her high points this season included traveling with the team across the country to competitions on the East Coast and nailing her highest score ever in all of her years of competing. In the final meet of the season, she had career bests on the floor and on bars.

“Lord willing, we’ll be reinstated for next year and we get to compete again. I just want to do even better next year with those scores, so that’s always something to look forward to,” says Manley, who will join the team to fundraise now that the season has wrapped up.

Seawolf Gymnastics team member Alyssa Manley competes on the floor during a meet against Centenary. (Photo by Skip Hickey / UAA Athletics)
Seawolf gymnast Alyssa Manley competes on the floor during a meet against Centenary. (Photo by Skip Hickey / UAA Athletics)

Finding (and keeping) a home at UAA

Other athletes on the team discovered UAA after gymnastics programs were cut at their institutions. Some of the athletes’ stories are heartbreaking, says Boggasch, but they found a home at UAA and a program that she and everyone on the team are happy to fight for.

“I’m a [UAA] alumna, my assistant coach is an alumna, and the university has given us so much and it’s given all of these women across the globe so much opportunity since 1984 and we’re determined to keep that going for our student athletes but also for all of the little girls around the country who are looking to us as one of their future options and pathways that will lead them to a successful life.”

If the team is funded and able to compete next season, it will be an experienced team that’s been battle-tested both on the floor and off.

“If we can complete our fundraising goal by June 30, I believe this season can absolutely be a building block but I’ve been careful to not think about [this season] as a building block year because there is that chance that it’s our last,” says Boggasch.


The gymnastics program is accepting donations online.

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