It was a tough weekend for the College of the Rockies women’s volleyball team.
The Avalanche dropped back-to-back home games on Friday night and Saturday afternoon and fell to a tie for last place in the PACWEST conference.
Head coach John Swanson was not pleased with the way his team performed and believes they need to dig a lot deeper if they want to become competitive this season.
“I think we have some soul searching to do as individual players and what it takes to play the style that we have to play, both offensively and defensively,” Swanson said following the match on Saturday, a 3-1 loss. “We have to have a check and value in every touch and the importance of value in every touch.
“We have some players who need to increase energy and passion and our key word is grit. It’s still going to be a work in progress because at this point we are far from where we need to be.”
The Avs came out cold in their Friday night match, being easily handled by an experienced Capilano side as they fell 25-19 and 25-13 to kick off the series.
The women didn’t give up, however, and displayed they do have some capacity for grit, squeaking out a 27-25 win in the third set.
In the fourth, the women seemed poised to finally show some dominance that they were expected to showcase as defending provincial champions. They quickly built up a 6-0 lead to start the set and forced Capilano into an early timeout.
With their usual leader at the right side hitter position, Ari Benwell, out for the weekend with an injury, freshman Sydney Herrick grabbed the spotlight with back-to-back kills early in the set.
While the Avs couldn’t sustain that level of play throughout the entire set, they still managed to stay in the lead by a hair and finally forced a fifth set with a 25-23 victory.
Unfortunately, the fifth played out as a continuation of the fourth with both teams trading points, and COTR never jumping out to any impressive leads. In the end, the Blues ended up getting the best of the Avs with a 15-13 win and left them with nothing to show for their impressive comeback.
“[Usually] the teams that come and play here are always a little better the second day because they’ve had a good night’s rest and they’re kind of acclimatized, [but Capilano] played well [from the first set],” Swanson said. “I think we can learn a lot from [them]. They’re experienced [and] their positional defense was good.”
“We attacked and kept hitting to their players … we have to change angles and change approaches and we have to change set locations [and] when that [didn’t] happen, that’s the part that’s frustrating.”
On Saturday afternoon, the women looked energized to build off the momentum they had generated with their comeback the night before, but quickly relapsed into their lacklustre play.
They won the first set 25-20 before coming out flat in the second and only managing eight points in a 25-8 loss.
Although they picked up their game a little, they lost the third set convincingly, 25-19, before making a bold personnel change for the fourth quarter.
Starting libero Alexa Koshman switched positions with Megan Clark and went on offense. Despite not usually being allowed to get kills at will, Koshman proved effective as a hitter picking up five kills in the set.
“Alexa is arguably the best libero, stats wise, in the league[ but] she’s also a very good attacker for us,” Swanson said of the change. “It gave [Clark] a chance to play libero and give her some experience as a first-year player, but it also [got] Alexa out there to hopefully score some points.
“I thought Alexa did well … we just needed a bit of a change of dynamic to try to change the momentum.”
Despite Koshman’s continued strong play from anywhere on the court, the team lost the fourth 25-17 and looked out of sorts as they floundered to a second straight loss.
Swanson doesn’t envision particularly fun practice sessions coming up this week.
“We’re going to work a lot on changing some of our offensive systems and strategies, and we are going to get much better defensively,” he said. “It’s going to be some hard work for the ladies, but we are going to work on defense, because ultimately, defense wins.
“All [great] teams can generally attack, but positional defense has to be better. We have to be lower, more disciplined.”
While he admitted that the injury to Benwell, who had 20 digs and 21 kills in 10 sets against Douglas College the previous weekend, contributed to their struggles, Swanson wouldn’t use it as an excuse.
“[Benwell has done a good job for us as a right side but [it was] an opportunity for another player to come in and step up and play and I think [Kennedy Koop] and [Sydney Herrick] had moments where it was good and moments where there were challenges.
“I feel badly for Ari, because obviously you want to be playing and productive and want to compete [but] all teams go through injuries…. we’re not unique and there are going to be other teams going through the same situation.”
While the weekend certainly didn’t go the way the team would have hoped, there were still bright spots in the play of individual players.
Second-year outside hitter Adriel Goodman was productive all weekend, amassing a team-leading 23 kills in the two matches and consistently making timely aggressive plays.
Goodman was named the Avs player of the match on Friday after picking up 11 digs, 14 kills, and a block. Fellow outside hitter Mikaela Pushor was given that honour on Saturday after an impressive showing of 20 digs, 9 kills, two blocks and an ace.
Koshman once again led the team in digs over the weekend with 53, while Herrick ended the weekend with a respectable 10 digs, 10 kills, a block and an ace.
“It’s always a learning experience, whether we win or lose, we always have to take something from it,” Swanson said. “As a coach, I see a team on the other side of the net that were much more disciplined defensively, position-wise. We were very predictable where we hit.
“We are obviously far from where we need to be and as a coaching unit and as a team, we have to step back and get back to some of the basics and change some of our strategies to be able to get more successes. We were not competitive this weekend and that is not acceptable.”
The Avs next match will be on the road against Columbia Bible College on November 24. CBC is currently tied with COTR in last place in the PACWEST. After back-to-back matches against CBC, the Avs play two straight against the University of Fraser Valley to close out their play for the semester.