Avs give crowd some wins in home opener

The College of the Rockies women's volleyball team went 1-1, while the men went 2-0, both against Douglas College.

It was a weekend to celebrate winning and the College of Rockies Avalanche volleyball teams did well on that front with the women’s team going 1-1 and the men going 2-0 against the visiting Douglas College Royals.

The action kicked off on Friday with a banner raising ceremony for last year’s PACWEST provincial champion women’s team. The returning players were honoured with a special introduction and were joined by former teammates Kelsey Thompson and Kendra Hainsworth, who brought out their championship trophy, before watching their banner get raised to the roof.

The women then did their best to prove that banner belonged as they took on a Royals team that was 4-0 heading into the match.

In the first two sets, the women played more like their 2016-17 championship squad than the 1-3 record they have so far this season. Although the Royals were competitive, the Avs won both the opening sets by a score of 25-22.

While they struggled to close out the victory, forcing a fifth set after falling 21-25 and 25-27, the COTR women came out on top in a 19-17 nailbiter.

The packed crowd, which was full of enthusiasm — and several large cutouts of a couple of players heads —  got to partake in a massive celebration at the end of the game. It was the first time they’ve been able to see the team in action since they took gold last year.

On Saturday afternoon, however, in front of a slightly more intimate crowd, the women couldn’t repeat their success from the previous night. Despite getting off to an almost identical start, winning the first two sets 25-22 and 25-20, they lost their way and fell 18-25 in the third and fourth. Douglas then landed the death blow in the fifth with a decisive 15-9 win.

Although he enjoyed his team’s starts, coach John Swanson was ultimately disappointed that they were only able to get a split in their home opener weekend.

|In both matches, we came out well [and] took the first two sets. [On Friday, we] had to battle back in the fifth and [Saturday] we did the same routine of coming out strong in the first two sets and whether Douglas changed some personnel, that happens, the momentum just changed completely … we obviously have to do a better job being able to finish matches.”

He was not at all pleased with the way they came out in the third set on Saturday.

“I think we came out flat or over-confident, or they changed personnel but [whatever it was] it got us into a mental state of worry, it looked like, [because] we didn’t execute. As much as I’d like to think it was winnable, [it wasn’t and] I think we played terribly.”

With a week until their next home games, Swanson believes that there is a lot to do in their upcoming practices.

“We’re going to work on defensive transition, that was lacking, we’re going to work on not serving to the libero, when she’s a very good passer,” he said. “We set ourselves us to have struggles when we don’t serve to who we want to.

“We [also] need to learn how to put the ball away, we had too many times where we [should have] hit better angles and [found] hands.”

Over the two games, the Avs were led by some familiar names from last year’s now-famous team. Third-year libero Alexa Koshman put up the most digs with 50, while right side hitter Mikaela Pushor and sophomore middle blocker Kennedy Koop tied for first in the kill department with 21 each.

Setter Sarah Wood also impressed with 16 digs, 3 kills and 1 block. She was named the Avs’ player of the match on Friday and Koshman earned that designation in Saturday’s losing effort.

On the men’s side, with the women’s banner looming above them, the Avs put on a show that gives reason to believe it may be their squad being honoured at this time next year.

Following the women’s emotional extended fifth set victory on Friday night, the men dropped a very close 23-25 opening set before taking the next three for a double-Avs win in their home openers.

Second-year outside hitter Patrik Toze was phenomenal in their opening match, picking up five digs, 14 kills, one block and two ace serves. Named Friday’s Avs player of the match, he ended the weekend with 10 digs and 30 kills.

In their second match, the men were once again 3-1 victors as they managed to beat the Royals to 25 points in a number of very competitive, back-and-forth sets.

After opening the year at 0-4 as a result of a very difficult opening road-trip on Vancouver Island, where they played Camosun and VIU, the COTR men seem to be finding their groove.

“[We] definitely improved from our last matches,” said men’s head coach Herb Tepper. “[We were] still a little up and down even in this match but definitely things are slowly looking a little better.”

Although they came out on top in six of the eight sets they played this weekend, Tepper would prefer to have won more of them comfortably.

“We have to keep the intensity up in practice and we have to become more consistent. We  let up in a few sets [over the weekend] when we had big leads. We can’t give those up, that’s the key for the future.

Tepper believes that the team is progressing well and another week of practice at their newly renovated home court should make them even more prepared for their next games.

Besides Toze, the Avs men’s team also received outstanding performances from libero Blake Thomson who had 23 digs, rookie outside hitter David Dobson who had 23 kills, sophomore outside hitter Julio Lins who had 29 kills, and Saturday’s Avs player of the match, Alex Cassels, who had 19 digs and five kills during the weekend.

The men’s Avs now find themselves in fifth place in the PACWEST with a 2-4 record, while the women are tied for fourth with the same record. They will both take on teams from Capilano University next week, who are both ranked in the sixth spot of their respective standings. The men are 0-3, while the women are 1-2.

The Avs will both hope to be .500 teams by the time next weekend is through.