It may still be early September, but the College of the Rockies Avalanche women’s volleyball team proved this past weekend that they’re ready to play.
Only a week into the semester and with less than two weeks of practice under their belt, the Avs took on their first preseason competition at home against top collegiate competition from Alberta.
Playing as a split squad, the COTR women were impressive and both put up 3-1 records while competing in some highly entertaining matches.
“I think it was a fantastic event [and] all the teams really enjoyed it,” said Avs head coach John Swanson. “It’s preseason for everybody and it’s early in the season, but it [allows] everybody to play [and] get touches.
“Being a split squad, it [gave us] a lot of volleyball game experience early in the year.”
The tournament kicked off on Friday afternoon with the COTR 1 team taking on the Ambrose University Lions in a dominant 3-0 Avs win.
The COTR 1 group was led by returning veteran Mikaela Pushor — who is in her second year with the Avs and fourth season of post-secondary volleyball — and former Camosun Chargers star Megan Beckett, a third-year right side hitter.
The team quickly found chemistry and took the first set 25-11. They then took the next two sets handily with 25-15 and 25-18 wins to complete the sweep.
The COTR 2 team, which included Alexa Koshman — a fourth-year Avs veteran and last year’s team MVP — and returning libero Megan Clark, as well as returning middle blocker Danielle Warner, got their chance at Ambrose later that night.
It was a tighter affair in the second Avs-Lions match, with Ambrose taking the match to a fifth set before losing to COTR 3-2 (19-25, 25-10,25-18,18-25, 15-9).
On Saturday, the Avs played each other in an intrasquad game with COTR 1 getting the best of COTR 2 in a four set match.
After winning the first two sets both by a score of 25-21, COTR 1 was shocked by their Avs teammates in the third and lost 25-9. Although the fourth was tight, COTR 1 managed to narrowly win 25-23 to avoid a fifth set.
That night, COTR 1 was handed their one and only loss at the hands of the Lethbridge College Kodiaks in another five set barn burner (23-25, 25-23, 25-23, 20-25, 16-14).
COTR 2 then won in straight sets over the Olds College Broncos (25-21, 25-21, 25-13) and COTR 1 did the same on Sunday morning (25-16, 25-19, 25-13).
The tournament ended on Sunday afternoon with one of the most competitive matches of the weekend between COTR 2 and the Kodiaks. In a back-and-forth affair, the Avs side won the first set 27-25 before losing the next two 25-20 and 25-17.
Showing resilience, COTR 2 then won the fourth set 25-19 and took the crucial fifth with a 15-9 victory.
While the wins were nice, for Swanson, the event was all just about having his team learn and grow in what was, for many of them, their first competitive college-level volleyball.
“Getting a lot of players to have opportunities to make plays defensively, offensively [and] transitioning [was huge],” Swanson said. “For the new players, [they were] learning this next level and what [the] expectations are.
“Everybody got a whole bunch of opportunities to play, touch, perform and they did brilliantly.”
The upcoming season is one of major transition for the Avs, who only have four players back from their team last year and have eight new members straight out of high school. With only a few practices before the tournament, Swanson was very impressed with the team’s play.
“I think we scratched the surface a little bit [with] our offensive structure [in practice], but you can’t do everything in two weeks,” he said. “I think this is a fantastic stepping stone of how they performed this weekend, to build [on] going forward.”
There were several standout performances for the Avs throughout the weekend. Koshman and Pushor continued to show leadership with timely kills and impressive serving. Clark, meanwhile, was very reliable on defence and newcomer Sarah Calkin — who played at the U Sports level with Memorial University in 2016-17 — proved that she can be an effective hitter for the squad.
The rookies — including Cranbrook-natives Janine Harach, Morgan Charlton and Brooke Lightburn — were also impressive, keeping up well with more experienced players on both sides of the court.
“I think it was fantastic for [our rookies] to get that opportunity to see things at the collegiate level against other opposition,” Swanson said. “I think everybody performed very well. I think for them, having the opportunity to get their nerves out a little bit, even though it’s not a league game, [was good]. They got a taste of what to expect going forward.”
The Avs’ next preseason action will take place between September 28 and 30 at the annual Red Deer ‘Red Rose’ tournament. Both the COTR women and men’s team will be competing at the event, which will serve as the final game action before their regular season PACWEST opener on October 20, at home against Camosun.