COTR Avalanche player Alex Avery spikes a ball towards a Douglas College Royals blocker on Saturday night. (Photo courtesy of Kathy McLeod)

COTR Avalanche player Alex Avery spikes a ball towards a Douglas College Royals blocker on Saturday night. (Photo courtesy of Kathy McLeod)

COTR Avalanche men earn first win at end of road trip

Volleyball team improves over the course of four-game Lower Mainland swing, beat Douglas College

Despite starting off their season with a five-match losing streak, the College of the Rockies men’s volleyball team did not enter Sunday afternoon with their heads hung low.

Heading into the fourth and final game of a difficult road trip in Vancouver, the Avs hadn’t managed a single set win, but knew that they were getting close to turning their fortunes around against the Douglas College Royals.

“Going into [that final] match we talked about how close we were to breaking through,” said COTR head coach Cisco Farrero. “[We said that] if each player could get us one more point per set, we would change the result and the guys really stepped up as a whole unit to get the job done.”

Coming out of the gate hot in the trip’s only matinee match, COTR won the first two sets over Douglas College 25-20 and 26-24. While they nearly ended the affair in the third, the Royals squeaked out a 27-29 win and then took control with a 25-15 fourth.

In the fifth set, the Avs showed resiliency and managed an emotional 15-9 victory to ensure a happy bus ride back to Cranbrook.

“I think [the win] does a lot for our confidence,” Farrero said. “In our post-match meeting I spoke about how we set a new level of expectation. We have a new baseline for our abilities as a team and that we, as a group, need to hold ourselves accountable to maintain that level of play and to keep focusing on improving.”

After losing a pair of 3-0 matches to the three-time defending champion Camosun Chargers at home to start off the year, the Avs started their road trip on Thursday against the undefeated Capilano Blues.

In the first match, the Avs were competitive but were sunk in straight sets (25-20, 25-14, 25-21). On Friday, against the same opponent, it was the same story with 25-19, 25-18 and 25-20 set losses.

“[In] our first game against Capilano, we executed our game plan well, but didn’t take care of the ball on our own side,” Farrero said. “[In] the second match, we played better, but so did Capilano, so the result was the same.”

On Saturday night, the Avs were in New Westminster for their first of two meetings with the Royals and lost 25-17, 25-19 and 25-21.

“[Against] Douglas [on Saturday] we improved some things but one serve receive breakdown kept us from winning,” Farrero said. “Serving and passing are the most important areas [of the game] and the ones that most determine winning and losing, so [in upcoming practices] we will continue to build upon our improvements that we showed in those skills this weekend.”

Finally winning in five sets on Sunday, the Avs improved their record to 1-5 and are now tied with the Columbia Bible College Bearcats for sixth-place in the PACWEST. The Blues meanwhile are in first with a perfect 6-0 and the Royals are in third at 3-3.

In addition to serving and passing, Farrero has one other major focus for improvement in their next two weeks of practice.

“We haven’t spent a ton of time on our block and defense,” he said. “This week we will spend time each day working on that skillset.”

Although Farrero said that there wasn’t one standout athlete for his team over the weekend, and that every player found a way to “be a little bit better each day”, a few players dominated the stat sheets.

Sophomore outside hitter Matt Cespedes had 33 kills while playing every set, trailed closely for the team-lead by Julio Lins, who had 28, and Breno Fabbri, who had 22. Starting libero Blake Thomson, meanwhile, had a team-best 29 digs and Lins led the way in blocks with six.

After the exhaustive trip, the Avs won’t play again until Friday, November 10 when they host the Vancouver Island University Mariners. Through four games, the 2016-17 Provincial silver medalists are 3-1 and should provide another formidable test for COTR at home.