Although Herb Tepper may just be a rookie, the new head coach of the College of the Rockies men’s volleyball team knows that his squad’s chances of being competitive this season rest on their veterans
While Tepper is no stranger to coaching volleyball — he’s been coaching in the club league in Cranbrook for over 15 years and was one of the founders of the East Kootenay Volleyball Club — this is his first shot at being the head coach of the Avs, and he has high hopes for the group he’s inheriting.
“I have pretty good expectations because we have a lot of returning players,” Tepper said after practice on Monday. “We also have a couple of really good rookies that are going to help out as well this year, so I think that it’s looking positive.”
Last season, the men’s Avs, who were coached by John Swanson pulling double duties as the head of both the men’s and women’s programs, ended the year with a fourth-place finish at the PACWEST provincial championship after going 9-15 in the regular season. Tepper believes the group’s biggest strength lies with the players who achieved that accomplishment last season.
“We have third-year players and a number of second-year players, so they know the league [and] understand what needs to be done [which] I think is going to help the whole team,” Tepper said. “It will be key to keep our top players healthy for us to be successful.”
Tepper pointed to a couple of returning standouts from last season as players he believed would be stars for the squad in the new campaign. He said he expects 6’9” setter Alex Cassels, who is now in his fourth year at the school, to be a leader once again, and 6’5” outside hitter Patrik Toze to have an important impact in his sophomore season
Toze, who was recruited from Brisbane, Australia, a season ago and was last year’s Avs Rookie of the Year, was sidelined for the entire month of September rehabbing an injury. Although he will be good to go to start the year, Tepper warned that due to his lack of preseason training, it may take some time for him to regain his form.
The Avs open their season on the road with four straight matches against competition on Vancouver Island. On October 13 and 14, they play the Camosun Chargers before facing the Vancouver Island University Mariners on October 15 and 16. Tepper expects both teams to provide a formidable challenge for his squad.
“Camosun [are the] defending champions, two years in row [but] they’ve lost their top setter[who was] the best setter in the league,” he said. “They’re going to be a bit different team but they’ll still be strong.
“And, VIU has almost all their players [back] except their top power-hitter, so they’ll be strong [as well]. We’re going to be in for a challenge on the road, right up front.”
While the Avs did some scrimmaging against Ambrose College in September, the men did not play in any preseason tournaments this year. Although Tepper recognizes that playing their very first four matches since last season on the road in four straight days will be very difficult, he believes they have enough talent to handle it.
“We are challenged that way because we’re the only team that plays four back-to-back matches on weekends but the good news is that I have some bench players that I think can play a role and help out the starters,” he said. “[Since] the starters can’t go four nights in a row, you need some depth on your bench and I’m fortunate that I have a few players that are a bit of a surprise to me, so it’s really nice.”
The Avalanche men return to Cranbrook for their home opener on Friday, October 28, where they’ll take on the Douglas College Royals at the newly renovated COTR gymnasium at 8 p.m.