Fifteen years after the inception of College of the Rockies Avalanche Volleyball, there is gold coming to Cranbrook.
The COTR Women’s Avalanche are PacWestProvincial Champions, after an intense come-from-behind five-set victory over the top-ranked Vancouver Island University Mariners, and are now off to the National Championships in Prince Edward Island, along with the Mariners.
The Men’s team finished the championship tournament in fourth. Provincials this year were hosted by Columbia Bible College in Abbottsford.
The Lady Avs, ranked sixth going into the tournament, reached the gold medal spot after a series of upsets — burying the number-three ranked Camosun College Chargers on Thursday, the number-two ranked Capilano Blues on Friday, and finally the Mariners on Saturday.
On Saturday, the Mariners pulled out to a two sets to none lead. But the Avs battled back to win the third set 25-22, and the fourth set 25-20.
“VIU was fantastic at the beginning — serving well, just very disciplined,” Avs coach John Swanson told Ryan Watters of PacWest. “We were down 12-4 at one point, but we didn’t panic. We just chipped away.
“Losing the first set wasn’t easy, but the comeback and the momentum was just huge. And they’ve been like that all year — it’s been incredible effort and a never-say-die attitude.”
Outstanding passing was the key, Swanson told Watters, and remarked on the point where the momentum began to shift in the Avs’ favour.
“Any coach would say the game always comes down to serving and passing. We were stuggling at moments, and VIU’s a very good serving team … they find the people they want to serve to. So as coaches, we challenge some of our players to expect the ball. And you go back to the little things, the skill sets and the small little notes.
The passing got better, Swanson said, “and then we have the option of getting [the ball] to any of our hitters. Then it’s hard for the opposition because they have to cover multiple hitters.”
After winning the fourth set to tie the match was set for a furnace of a sudden death 15-point fifth set. And Swanson told the players to play aggressively.
“It’s all about momentum,” he said. “We won the fourth set, and it’s important when you start a new set to keep that momentum going. And because it’s 15 points, you have to be aggressive — you can’t play safe. If they block us or if we hit it out we can live with that because our motto is ‘just stay aggressive.’ And also being smart — don’t go after shots if they aren’t there, and don’t get into tipping and don’t get into rolls.
“The fifth set is always a flip of the coin anyway.”
Swanson said Ari Benwell was serving well for the Avalanche in the fifth set.
“In a short set like that, if we get a couple of passing errors on the other side, the stress just elevates and we keep putting the pressure on.”
The Avs took the fifth set 15-0 to win gold. Five of the Avalanche players had at least 10 kills, led by tournament MVP Kelsey Thompson. And Alexa Koshman was the difference maker with 26 digs to lead the team.
The COTR Avalanche will join the VIU Mariners in representing B.C. at the 2016 CCAA Women’s Volleyball National Championship, March 9-12, at Holland College in Prince Edward Island.
On the Men’s side, VIU also medalled, taking the bronze medal match over the College of the Rockies Avalanche.
Pacwestbc.ca reported that the Men’s Mariners played outstanding defence, knowing the Avalanche were without their best player, Patrik Toze, who was sidelined with a lower body injury. Avalanche played a gritty match without Toze, but the Mariners collected 14 blocks frustrating the Avalanche, and would go on to win 25-16, 27-25 and 25-21.
But the Men’s squad also shone throughout the tournament, falling just short of a Cinderella finish. The Men’s Avs, ranked fifth going into provincials, upset the No. 4 University of Fraser Valley Cascades. Pacwestbc.ca reported that the the Avs were down 24-19 in the fourth set, but “stormed back to win the set and the match 26-24, punching their ticket to the semi.”
The Camosun Chargers won the Men’s semi in three sets, 25-19. 25-19 and 25-17, during which Toze sustained his injury.