The excitement was palpable in John Swanson’s voice as he talked about Friday night’s win over the VIU Mariners.
Even after coming off of a loss on Saturday, the College of the Rockies Avalanche women’s head coach was glowing with pride at his team’s performance.
“It was an emotional kind of roller coaster,” Swanson said, describing beat-for-beat the way Friday’s match unfolded. “The opening set [on Friday was at] 16-15 and then [VIU] went on a 6-0 run and then they ended up winning it. It was disappointing just because we kind of let that set get away from us. Then we got off to a 9-3 deficit in the second set. It was just not going well [and] I’m so incredibly proud of the ladies for how they battled and how they competed.
“We came back and won that set. They played brilliantly in the third. I have to give VIU credit. They sharpened up and came back in the fourth set and [then] in that fifth set, we were down 11-8, then 14-12, and came back and won 18-16. It was a huge win for our program. Both days, I’m just incredibly proud of the ladies for how they competed and never quit.”
Heading into the weekend, VIU had a 10-2 record and even after going 1-1 against the Avs, the Mariners are the top team in the PACWEST with 22 points.
COTR stood firm in sixth place, tied with the UFV Cascades and the Camosun Chargers with 10 points.
The Avs had a number of players step up and deliver huge performances against the Mariners.
Alexa Koshman, continuing to shine at left side, had 11 kills in 5 sets while also racking up a team-leading 20 digs. Outside hitter Adriel Goodman had the most kills in the win with 18 and also contributed 13 digs, five blocks, and two aces. Right side hitter Mikaela Pushor meanwhile had 16 digs, eight kills, six blocks and one ace on Friday.
On Saturday afternoon, the Avs played well but couldn’t match a VIU team that was eager to bounce back from a rare loss.
“We expected VIU to come out a little bit stronger [in the second match], which is typical when teams travel,” Swanson said. “We started off again, not at a level that we needed to, but I’m proud of the ladies because again, what we’ve challenged them with from the beginning of the year is to always compete [and they did that].”
While the women narrowly avoided losing in three sets, winning 27-25 in the third, VIU closed out strong with a 25-15 fourth set victory.
Nevertheless, Swanson was pleased with the way the team came out in their second semester of play and especially liked their team-first attitude.
“[Our] passing [was great],” he said. “We got our passes up to our setters and our middles can go and I was pleased with that adjustment and that transition that we made in the second semester on our tempo. It should bode well for us going forward.”
Goodman once again led the team in kills on Saturday with 19, Pushor had the most digs with 13, and Koshman was good both offensively and defensively with nine digs and 11 kills. Playing at libero for the injured Megan Clark, Mackenzie Morey was solid with 31 digs over 9 sets during the weekend.
On the men’s side, there was significantly less joy, but still just as many encouraging signs for the future. VIU entered the weekend, like their women’s team, as the top team in the PACWEST and kept their place with back-to-back wins over the Avs.
On Friday, it was a heartbreaker for COTR. The Avs put up 25-22 and 25-18 wins to start the match at 2-0 but then fell 26-28, 22-25 and finally 13-15 to lose the match.
“We blew a golden opportunity [on Friday],” coach Herb Tepper said. “We competed [though]. Our goal was to try and get over 20 points in every set and we did that. I think our level of competition was good. We just weren’t executing well enough, but given the long break, it’s not a big surprise.”
On Saturday, the Avs once again came out of the gate strong but were on the losing side of two close opening sets, falling 25-22 and 25-23. In the third set, they came out hot, piling up a 6-0 run and eventually winning 25-18.
The fourth and final set would be the team’s worst, however, as the only managed 13 points. Tepper did not have to rack his brain for explanations to why the team lost.
“We need to be more efficient at hitting,” he said. “Our efficiency was very low and that caused us to lose [Friday] and was also the issue [Saturday].”
Despite the unfavourable scoreline, the Avs stars continued to shine in 2017.
Outside hitter Patrik Toze put up a team-leading 23 kills over the weekend, with 16 coming on Friday night alone. Julio Lins and David Dobson meanwhile had impressive 10 dig and 15 kill showings, and middle blocker Spencer Janzen had 6 blocks to go with 13 kills and five digs.
The loss marked a season-sweep for VIU over COTR, as the Mariners had previously beaten the Avs twice on their home court in October. Even with the losses, COTR remained tied in fourth place in the PACWEST with a 6-8 record.
While Tepper admits that VIU deserves credit for their success, he does not believe that the 13-1 powerhouse squad is unbeatable.
“They’re a very good team [and] obviously, their record shows that,” he said. “They’ve got weapons in all positions, but they’ve shown they can be beaten as well.”
The Avs are back at home next weekend as the men’s and women’s teams take on the Camosun Chargers in another important pair of back-to-back matches against stiff competition.