With their records both at 2-4 so far this season, you might not expect the College of the Rockies Avalanche men’s and women’s volleyball teams to feel that good heading into another weekend of home games.
However, there are plenty of reasons to be positive about their chances against the Capilano Blues.
Capilano is ranked in second last in the PACWEST in both the women’s and men’s standings, and the Avs had a very successful home opener, that has got them in a lot more optimistic headspace than after their road trip on Vancouver Island.
If they can sweep the weekend, both Avs squads will be at .500 and in a good position to start rising up the conference ladder. While there are certainly high expectations to perform this weekend, the coaches are not willing to take their opponents lightly.
“[Capilano is] probably a better team than their record shows, I’ve watched quite a bit of their tape and if we don’t play our quality game we’re going to struggle against them,” said men’s coach Herb Tepper, whose team is on a two-game winning streak, beating Douglas College twice at home after going 0-4 in their opening matches against VIU and Camosun. “It’s always tougher to play the teams that you’re expected to do well against, so we have to take that on as a challenge and come prepared.
Tepper said that while getting to 4-4 would be nice, they can’t expect to come out with the results they want, without playing at a top level.
“Given our start, [.500] would be a really good position to be in but we certainly can’t take anything for granted and any team can beat any other team on a given night … we have to be prepared to play our game.”
The men’s Blues team is a very young team, featuring eight first-years and have only one player who has been with the program for over two seasons. Their women, on the other hand, are a very experienced group, and Avs women’s coach John Swanson knows that they won’t be an easy opponent.
“I expect it will be a challenge … they have four fifth-year players [and] I think with that maturity, nerves won’t affect [them] that much,” Swanson said. “They’re going to give us a tough match and we’re going to have to expect the best from them right [from] the start.”
Any team that we play, it’s going to be competitive. Whether a team’s record is at the bottom of the standings or the top they’re all going to be competitive matches, so I don’t think we’re going to have any easy ones,” he said. “I’ll be very, very happy if we can get two wins here [and] if we can get our record to .500 I would be really happy.
“We always want to improve week to week [and] like last year get to our maximum playing capacity when we get to provincials … but first, we have to make sure we get into provincial, which is a hard thing too.”
Both Avs teams are also given a boost by having last week’s PACWEST Volleyball Athletes of the Week, an honour that was bestowed on middle blocker Kennedy Koop and outside hitter Julio Lins, after their performances against Douglas College last weekend.
Koop played in all five sets in Friday’s home opener and had 11 kills, a block, an ace and five digs. Then in the rematch on Saturday, she was a consistent threat and recorded 10 kills, three aces, and two digs.
“It’s fantastic, I’m really happy for her, and we’ve actually had quite a few players really perform very well,” Swanson said. “[Koop] was a great player for us last year and continues to play very well this year and I think particularly in our last three matches she’s been quite dominant as a hitter, and always blocks well and serves well.”
Lins had an amazing weekend leading his team to back-to-back victories. On Friday, Julio had 12 kills, a block, and his serving was at 90%. On Saturday Julio continued to dominate with 17 kills, a pair of blocks and serving at 92% including two aces.
“[Lins] dramatically improved, the one thing that [he didn’t receive recognition for] was his passing, he was one of our best passer [over the weekend,” Tepper said. “Then on top of that on Saturday with 17 kills and almost 60% hitting efficiency — which is unheard of as a power hitter. He was a huge contributing factor in our victories.”
The women’s team also received the additional honour of being placed in the top 15 in the national CCAA/ACSC rankings. They just squeaked into the picture, at number 15, a position that Swanson feels is appropriate.
“After what we did last year, we came into the season ranked seventh [but] rankings are always a tricky thing because it’s subjective,” he said. “I actually looked at it and was grateful that we’re still ranked 15th, because somebody could look and say ‘well they’re 2-4 and still ranked #15 in Canada, that doesn’t make sense.’
“But I think some of the competition we’ve played [and] the travel schedule we’ve had going to the Island — which is tough — [contributed to that]. I love the fact that we’re still in the top 15 despite our record.”
Swanson knows that they need to start winning more consistently however, if they want to remain in the national conversation.
“We have to take care of business at home because when we go on the road it’s going to be challenging. I’m expecting us to have a good weekend [against Capilano] and it’ll be very good competition, and hopefully we’ll be successful.”
His team kick off the weekend at 6 p.m. on Friday night at the COTR gymnasium and play again on Saturday at 1 p.m. The men follow them on each day, playing at 8 p.m. and then 3 p.m.