They’re a little understaffed, but the Avs are entering the new season feeling better than ever.
Although a coaching change over the offseason limited the College of the Rockies men’s team’s ability to restock their roster from departing players, the close-knit group is not worried about their ability to compete with the best teams in the PACWEST.
“I don’t think there is any question of motivation,” said new head coach Cisco Farrero. “There’s a bit of excitement [and] a bit of nervousness, but I think we’re going to be ready.”
Although the Avalanche are missing four of their starting six from last season’s fourth-place regular season team, including key outside hitter Patrik Toze — who had 486 kills in two seasons before making the leap to U Sports with the Mount Royal University Cougars this year — the team still has a solid foundation.
Third-year libero Blake Thomson remains as a steady defensive presence, third-year outside hitter Julio Lins is still around as an offensive threat and several bench players will have an opportunity for a bigger role in 2017-18.
How well they seize their chances, will be on full display during Friday night’s home opener against the reigning three-time champion Camosun Chargers.
“I think we’re going to do really well,” said sophomore middle blocker Alex Avery, one of the team’s 11 players. “We have a good chance of going 2-0 [or] splitting the weekend, which is fantastic.”
Avery is one of the players who showed great glimpses of potential in the team’s 0-4 preseason play in Red Deer in late September. According to Farrero, every player on the roster has showed signs of greatness in the weeks leading up to the regular season.
“There has been glimpses of guys being like, ‘I’m absolutely ready’ and then there have been glimpses of guys being, ‘Well, maybe I’m not quite there yet’,” Farrero said. “We definitely have the opportunity to take that next step, [but] it doesn’t just happen overnight.
“I’m excited for the weekend to see how far along we are in that process for a number of individuals.”
According to Lins, the opening games will be a challenge with only a few key returners, but he is looking forward to helping other players seize their moments.
“[Camosun] still has a very good team for this season, so it’s going to be a big challenge,” the 6’3 Brazilian said. “We have new roles for this season and [I] have a special role this year and have to help the new guys be comfortable on the court.”
One Camosun player who should be very familiar to the Avs, is middle blocker Spencer Janzen who was the Avs floor captain last season before transferring to the Victoria-based school.
Avery, who could be expected to take on a lot of the slack left by Janzen, knows that the Chargers will be hard to contain.
“I expect a lot of defense, [but] they are good all around,” Avery said. “They’ve won the PACWEST for the past three years for a reason, but we can’t go in thinking we’re going to lose.
“We have to keep positive, keep our attitudes up and think we’re going to win and we’ll win.”
According to Farrero, the team has been doing a little bit of everything in practice to prepare for the weekend.
“The most important thing is the ability to side-out, to pass the other teams’ serves and to be able to limit the runs by our opponents,” the coach said. “That’ll be a work in progress the entire season [and] I don’t think any team in men’s volleyball is ever truly satisfied with their ability to do that skill, [but] our success this weekend will be totally dependent on that.”
After one weekend, Camosun is 1-1 after splitting a pair of matches against the VIU Mariners at home.
“Those two teams both look really big and athletic,” Farrero said of the Vancouver Island clubs. “[Camosun] is really good [and] they’re really big. We have to serve well and we have to receive well because they are bigger than us, for sure.”
As for the potential of a big crowd on opening night at the College, Farrero is excited to get his first taste of the COTR game day experience.
“I expect a loud crowd and a lot of fun and energy in our gym,” he said. “We’ve got the big dogs coming to our gym for the first weekend and we’re going to need the crowd for sure to be big and loud.”
Avery agreed that a great audience will have a huge boost on his team’s chances.
“I think it’s going to be rowdy [and] that’s how I like it,” he said. “It’s going to be full of energy, which I’m going to really feed off of. It’s going to really push us. The crowd has got to stay positive as well and keep cheering for us.”
The home opener for the men kicks off at 8:00 p.m. on Friday after the women start the party at 6 p.m. The women then play again at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday and the men play at 3:00 p.m.
As part Friday’s ‘Paint the Gym Pink’ game, the COTR court will be decked out in pink decorations and the program will also be selling pink Avs shirts for 25 dollars each and donating the money to the Cancer Society.
The following week, the team will head out on their first road trip of the season to the Lower Mainland, playing the Capilano University Blues and the Douglas College Royals in four straight matches from Thursday to Sunday.