For the first time this season, the College of the Rockies volleyball program will be hosting games in Cranbrook and they’ll do so with a shiny new banner hanging above them.
As last season’s PACWEST provincial champions, the women’s team will have their historical achievement raised to the roof of the college’s newly renovated gymnasium. They are the first team in COTR history to win a championship and will be honoured in a special pre-game banner-raising ceremony at 5:30 p.m. on Friday night.
The team will then face off against the Douglas College Royals at 6 p.m. before the Avs men play at 8 p.m.
“[The banner-raising] is going to be fantastic, the ladies should be very proud of their accomplishment last year,” women’s coach John Swanson said. “[It’s] historic that it’s the first PACWEST championship at the college [and] the returning players will always be a part of that.
“I think they should be extremely proud and happy with the achievement that they made.[They should] keep that in mind — what it takes to get to that level — and use that same intensity that we had last year in our match against Douglas.”
Despite the excitement of the event, the match against Douglas College will be a tough challenge for the reigning champs. The Royals women’s squad enter the weekend 4-0 in PACWEST league play, having so far swept Columbia Bible College and Capilano in their opening matches.
“[Douglas] is going to come in with a fair bit of confidence, understandably, and it’ll be important for us to make sure that we come out and match that,” Swanson said. “[We need to] play with high intensity and high energy, and utilize the home crowd that we haven’t had this season.
“We’ll, fortunately, get [to play in front of our home fans] this weekend and [try to] use that energy to our best advantage.”
Swanson said that practice has been going well since they’ve returned from their somewhat disappointing opening weekend on Vancouver Island, where they went 1-3 against Camosun and VIU.
“Being in our own gym has been nice, the renovations are fantastic, so it’s a great atmosphere for the ladies,” he said. “We’ve just been able to work on improving certain areas and certain skill sets [and] the team did a good job in getting together and scouting what to expect from Douglas. They’re playing real well right now, so it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
The men also had a rough start on Vancouver Island going 0-4 against two of the conference’s top-ranked clubs, Camosun and VIU, and they’ll once again be in a tough situation against a Royals team who, just like their women’s squad, are undefeated through four games.
“[Douglas] is always going to be a well-drilled team, they lost their head coach but they’ll always have very well executed skills,” said starting outside hitter Patrik Toze. “They have strong left sides and a strong middle but I think if we serve well and pass well — as well as not make as many errors as we did last road-trip — we should be fine.”
During their first road trip, the Avs men were let down by too many unforced errors but were encouraged by their closing sets against VIU where they put up over 20 points in each game and ended their road swing competitively.
It’s a sign of resiliency that Toze believes will allow them to turn the corner once they’re up to full speed.
“We were mainly let down in those games by our runs, we sometimes let them have up to 8 points in a row and that just can’t happen anymore,” he said. “We know that when we get our stuff together and really come together as a team, we’re going to be annihilating teams, without a doubt.”
Just like the women, the men have taken advantage of the period in between games to make some serious strides in practice.
“We improve every training session, it comes from touches, experience, getting people those reps… we’ve been moving a lot around with our setters, getting them to set better balls more consistently. Come game time, we’re going to be going full-throttle.”
In their opening four matches, Toze has led the men’s side offensively putting up 31 kills, while also picking up 19 digs, three blocks, and two aces.
The women’s team was led by right side hitter Mikaela Pushor who had 36 digs, 39 kills, and 13 blocks over their four matches. Libero Alexa Koshman also played a key role, picking up a team-leading 36 digs in just three matches while second-year outside hitter Adriel Goodman was also strong with 27 digs and 31 kills, while playing every set.
Speaking to the Townsman earlier this week, Koshman said she expects a very warm reception for their big night.
“I can guarantee that we’ll have a ridiculous amount of support,” she said of the home opener. “Knowing how our home games were last year and the people that have come up to us, [it should be a great crowd].”
After their big return on Friday night, the Avs will be back in action against the Douglas College Royals again on Saturday afternoon. The women play at 1 p.m. while the men go at 3 p.m.
Both teams will be hoping that by this time next year, there will be a couple more banners hanging above them.