Avalanche middle Madison Hudy gets ready to drop the hammer Tuesday evening during practice at College of the Rockies. The women’s team is in action Friday and Saturday

Avalanche middle Madison Hudy gets ready to drop the hammer Tuesday evening during practice at College of the Rockies. The women’s team is in action Friday and Saturday

Avalanche of fresh talent

College of the Rockies women’s volleyball full of new faces; ready for redemption

Taylor Rocca

The College of the Rockies Avalanche women’s volleyball team is ready to put a disappointing 2013-14 campaign in the past as they prepare to hit the court for their first action of the fall.

The Avalanche host the Lethbridge College Kodiaks, SAIT Trojans and Ambrose University Lions in pre-season tournament play beginning Friday at College of the Rockies.

“This year we’ve got the offense, now it’s about putting the defence in to make it all click together,” said Avalanche women’s volleyball coach Andrew Zurrin following practice Tuesday night at College of the Rockies. “Last year, we were lacking offensive finish and a little bit of defence. We solved two big problems of setting and libero [in the off-season] so those are huge upgrades.”

Competing in the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST), the Avalanche finished outside the top six in the province and missed out on the 2014 volleyball championships.

The Avalanche will put forth a refreshed, young roster in 2014-15, with nine first year players on the squad, including Cranbrook’s Alyssa Rundberg (left side/libero). The rookies will be thrown right into the mix Friday when the Avalanche face the Kodiaks at 11 a.m. in the tournament opener.

“It’s about getting all the rookies game time, getting them past the jitters,” Zurrin said. “Seeing the college level, seeing the bigger players and getting them past that [fear] so they can see it and say, ‘I can play this level.’ They can. Now they have to see it. Exhibition is huge for that.

“The vets, I’m not even worried about. They’re probably going to play 30 per cent of the time. The rookies are playing 70 [per cent].”

With five veteran players on the squad, Zurrin is confident he has the right mix to get his team back into the conversation.

The contingent of returners includes Cranbrook’s own Allison Pepper (middle), winner of the 2014 Avalanche Award, 2014 Most Improved Player Madison Hudy (middle) and Kelsey Thompson (left side), 2014 team MVP and Best Offensive Player.

“We’ve got a really strong team coming in [to the season],” said Hudy, a graduate of Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary. “[We’ve got] a lot of new players but a lot of players who are determined and want to play strong out there.

“If we stick together as one team as opposed to being individuals [on the court], we’re going to find a lot of success.”

The veteran strength doesn’t end with Pepper, Hudy and Thompson. Jayden Roch (right side) returns for her second season with the Avalanche after claiming Rookie of the Year honours in 2014. Corissa Mildenberger (left/right side) rounds out the group.

Apart from Rundberg, Kara Froese (middle) is the only other newcomer from B.C., joining the Avalanche from Abbotsford. The rest of the rookies hail from Alberta. Ashleigh Noel (setter), Makenzie Morey (left side/libero) and Taylor Forster (middle) come to Cranbrook via Calgary. Caity Rook (Cochrane), Alexa Koshman (Lethbridge), Kendra Hainsworth (Sylvan Lake) and Ari Benwell (Okotoks) round out the freshman crew.

“Just show them what I would do on the court or help them if they have questions,” Thompson said in regards to helping the younger group transition into the college game.

“[The biggest challenge] is going to be playing consistent through all our matches…Passing and defence is what we need to work on [in order to find that consistency].”

Zurrin’s group has been practicing since the last week of August in preparation for this weekend.

“We practice four times a week and I believe in doing a lot of learning and changing on the athletes,” Zurrin said. “Whatever [knowledge] you came in with, that’s your base. Now we’re going to add a lot of things to make you a college-level player.”

The Avalanche hit the court twice Friday, including a 7:30 p.m. primetime ticket against the Ambrose University Lions, before closing out round-robin play at 11 a.m. Saturday morning against the SAIT Trojans.

PACWEST play begins Oct. 23 when the Avalanche travel to the Lower Mainland to face the Columbia Bible College Bearcats.

2014-15 Avalanche Women’s Roster

#1 Alyssa Rundberg (Left side/Libero)  Cranbrook#2 Caity Rook (Left side) Cochrane#3 Ashleigh Noel (Setter ) – Calgary#4 Jayden Roch (Right side) – Nelson#5 Mackenzie Morey (Left side/Libero) – Calgary#6 Corissa Mildenberger (Left/right side) – Elkford#7 Kelsey Thompson (Left side) – Vernon#8 Madison Hudy (Middle) – Calgary#9 Alexa Koshman (Libero) – Lethbridge#10 Taylor Forster (Middle) – Calgary#11 Allison Pepper (Middle) – Cranbrook#12 Kendra Hainsworth (Setter) – Sylvan Lake#13 Ari Benwell (Right side) – Okotoks#15 Kara Froese (Middle) – Abbotsford

Tournament ScheduleFriday, Sept. 2611 a.m. – Avalanche vs. Lethbridge Kodiaks1 p.m. – SAIT Trojans vs. Ambrose Lions5:30 p.m. – Lethbridge Kodiaks vs. SAIT Trojans7:30 p.m. – Avalanche vs. Ambrose Lions

Saturday, Sept. 279 a.m. – Lethbridge College Kodiaks vs. Ambrose University Lions11 a.m. – College of the Rockies Avalanche vs. SAIT Trojans3:30 p.m. – Third place vs. fourth place5:30 p.m. – First place vs. second place