The College of the Rockies Avalanche women’s volleyball team may have ended their first semester with five straight losses, but they have plenty of reasons for optimism heading into weekend action against the Capilano University Blues.
An almost two month break provided the Avs with plenty of holiday cheer and the team is healthy and fired up to take a run at a provincial title at the end of February.
“We were 3-1, and then to finish 4-8, that’s not a good finish, but a lot of our first years got a chance to play, [so] they’ll grow and it’s going to help us in practice,” said head coach John Swanson. “It’ll push our veteran [players]. If they struggle, we will be able to put some other players in who, because of all the experience, won’t be so shell-shocked or overwhelmed.”
The most significant benefit of the time off, however, was the chance for players to recover from injuries. Limited to only two full matches in the first semester, due to two foot injuries, outside hitter Alexa Koshman is good to go to start the new year.
A fourth-year veteran, Koshman started out her season with a monster performance against Camosun and a PACWEST player of the week win, before being sidelined.
“We’re very fortunate and feel blessed that Alexa is back and able to play,” Swanson said. “She missed substantial time, [but] physically, she’ll be quite fresh.”
In her absence, fellow veteran Megan Beckett — a third-year PACWEST player who previously played with Camosun — stepped up in a big way, before also succumbing to an injury during the team’s semester-ending road trip.
According to Swanson, she will also play over the weekend and should give the lineup a lot of spark.
“[Koshman and Beckett] will be fresh coming out and [fellow veteran] Michaela Pushor played a lot and we relied on her a lot, but she’s a mature athlete and she knows about keeping fit,” he said. “I think the energy will be really good [from them], because there will be so much enthusiasm and passion to come out and play, and showcase what we can do as a team.”
Unfortunately, as two players make returns, another one has been ruled out of the season indefinitely.
“We lost Danielle Warner, our middle, to an injury that she sustained even before coming to COTR,” Swanson said. “She had it last year and re-aggravated it again this year, and unfortunately we’re not going to have her for this semester and that’s disappointing.
“[She’s not only] a very good volleyball player, but an incredible person.”
Replacing her at the net will be Abigail Horch, a first-year player out of Chinook High School in Lethbridge, Alberta — the alma mater of Koshman, Pushor and starting libero Megan Clark.
“[Horch] will help in our middle position [and] she’s going to come in and fill that job with Randi [Dalquist] and Presley [Gould],” Swanson said. “It’ll be a new experience for her, but she’s practicing really well. She looks good and jumps out of the gym. It should be exciting to see what she can do.”
In their previous two meetings with Capilano (8-6, fourth place) on the road in late October, the Avs faced a 3-1 loss before earning a 3-1 win. According to Swanson, the Blues are always a tough opponent.
“They’re a good team [and] have very good outside hitters,” he explained. “They defend really well, they serve quite tough, so I think it’s going to be competitive. Home court advantage will help us, but in the end, volleyball is still volleyball and you still have to compete against the six that are on the other side of the net.
“We have a game plan for them. I think we have a pretty good idea of what they tend to do.”
At 4-8, the Avs are in second-last place in the conference, but with Camosun at 0-12 and six of seven teams qualifying for the provincials, the COTR women are not in panic mode.
“We’re not in the situation where we are in dire straits trying to make the playoffs, [but] we have to take care of business,” Swanson said. “If we can put some wins together, I think we can build some momentum. We can be a tough team coming towards the playoffs, and that’s what we have aspirations for.”
The Avs first match of the new semester begins at 6:00 p.m on Friday night, with the men’s team following them at 8:00 p.m. They then have a rematch against Capilano at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. They host Columbia Bible College the following weekend, as part of a final stretch that includes six of 10 matches in Cranbrook.