Avalanche slide into Fraser Valley looking for wins

College of the Rockies volleyball teams play four-straight matches in road trip to Abbotsford against CBC and UFV.

The College of the Rockies Avalanche men’s and women’s volleyball teams are in Abbotsford for the next four days and are looking to close out their semester with some much-needed wins.

Both teams play four straight games beginning Thursday night, the first two against the Columbia Bible College Bearcats and the final two against the University of Fraser Valley Cascades.

The women’s squad, the reigning PACWEST provincial champions, have had a tough time living up to their high expectations so far this year.

The women are 2-6 so far this year in conference play and are coming off a disappointing November 4 weekend that saw them lose back-to-back matches to the Capilano University Blues.

They are tied at the bottom of the standings with both their upcoming opponents — CBC is 2-8 and UFV is 2-7 — and should have an excellent chance to move up in the PACWEST with a strong showing in the valley.

After their games against Capilano, head coach John Swanson said his group had a lot of “soul searching” to do. He expects a renewed effort on the road but doesn’t take anything for granted.

“I think we’ve [gotten] a little better in our positional play,” he said of the team’s two weeks of practice. “Defensively, I thought the last match that we played we were exposed by being out of position and thus creating some errors, [so] we’ve worked on that.”

Swanson said this trip will be a good indicator of where the team is at heading into a month-long semester break.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on the ladies [by] saying that it’s a make or break trip, because that’s not true,” he said. “It will show us where we stand because if we want to be considered one of the stronger teams in the PACWEST, these are the games that we have to win.”

Despite the competition being at the bottom of the league table, as Swanson has said repeatedly this year — there are no easy matches in the PACWEST.

“[CBC and UFV] have been competitive this season. [They’re] kind of similar to us, they’ve had moments where they’ve played well [and] just haven’t produced the wins. So, we know going in that it’s going to be a competitive, [especially] when they’re at their home gyms, which is always a challenge.”

The Avs have several players at the top of their game heading into the weekend. Outside hitter Adriel Goodman and right side hitter Mikaela Pushor are tied for the team lead in kills with 67 a piece, while libero Alexa Koshman continues to prove that she’s the class of the league at her position with 142 digs, an average of 4.90 per set.

On the men’s side, they’ll also be looking to dig themselves out of the league’s basement and have a good opportunity to do so.

While their 3-5 record has COTR as sixth place in the PACWEST, the seventh place squad is CBC and they are already at 0-10.

Opening the weekend against a winless Bearcats squad should allow the Avs to keep rolling in the right direction. After losing their first four games on their Vancouver Island road trip, to VIU and Camosun, the Avalanche have looked sharp and have three wins in their last four games.

The UFV Cascades will pose more of a challenge, however. They are in second place in the conference and are 7-2 through their opening nine games.

UFV is on a four-match winning streak and their only two losses this year have come against VIU — the top-ranked team in the PACWEST.

If the Avs want any chance at winning, their top players will have to be sharp.

Offensively, second year outside hitter Patrik Toze has been the Avs brightest star with 94 kills in 34 sets so far this season. Julio Lins has also impressed with a 2.48 kills-per-set average in what looks to be another strong year for the Brazilian import.

Win or lose this weekend, both Avs teams will get a much-deserved rest in December. Following their game on Sunday, the teams won’t play until January 6, 2017 when they host VIU at their home gym.

Both teams have dealt with injuries so far this year, and Swanson said that for the women at least, the month of downtime is a blessing.

“[The break] is going to be good for us. Not to use it as an excuse, [but] we’ve had a lot of injuries,” he said. “I think of the 17 players that we have, eight of them have missed either practice or playing time due to injuries. I know a lot of teams go through it, but I know that in my three years [here] we’ve never had this amount of players go down with injuries.

“I’m hopeful that the time and rest will help our athletes recharge the batteries and be [stronger] for the second semester.”

The Avs road trip kicks off tonight at 6 p.m. when the women return to the CBC gym — the site of their provincial championship victory — for the first time since February. The men then play at 8 p.m. in a match likely to end in a COTR victory. Every game is available to be viewed online on PACWEST TV.