COTR women’s head coach John Swanson addresses his players during a practice session at the team’s 2017-18 boot camp on Saturday. (Barry Coulter Photo)

COTR women’s head coach John Swanson addresses his players during a practice session at the team’s 2017-18 boot camp on Saturday. (Barry Coulter Photo)

COTR Avalanche women hosting pre-season tournament

Alberta collegiate competition in town from Friday to Sunday for first Avs action of the semester

The girls are back in town.

On September 8, 9 and 10, the College of the Rockies Avalanche women’s volleyball team will be hosting a pre-season tournament at their home gymnasium.

The tournament will pit the Avs against top collegiate competition from Alberta with Calgary’s Ambrose University Lions, the Olds College Broncos and the Lethbridge College Kodiaks who are in town for the event.

The COTR team will be split into two teams and play as a split squad for the tourney, which will be their first game action of the fall.

The offseason has been one of considerable change for the Avs. Only four players are returning from the 2016-17 season and they will be joined by ten new recruits.

Last year, the women finished the regular season in fourth-place with a 10-14 record and then made the PACWEST Provincials bronze medal match, but lost to the Capilano Blues to stay steadfast at fourth.

The departing players were all moving on after having finished their educational requirements and the program immediately got to work replacing them.

Although head coach John Swanson said the year will definitely be a transition, he believes that it should be fairly smooth.

“It’s an unusual year with the huge turnover that we had, [but] we knew we had to be aggressive in our recruiting [and] we were,” Swanson said. “The encouraging thing is that [a lot of our new players] have significant experience.”

Two of the new players, Megan Beckett and Sarah Calkin, have already played at the post-secondary level. Beckett previously played in the PACWEST with the Camosun Chargers and was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year for the 2014-2015 season. Calkin spent last season at the U Sports level — the top university athletic league in Canada — with the Memorial University Seahawks in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Three other players — Morgan Charlton, Brooke Lightburn and Janine Harach — are all local athletes who should also comfortably make the jump up to the Avs.

“Those three players worked with each other, they know my coaching style and I know how they’ll play,” said Swanson, who coached Cranbrook’s Mount Baker Secondary Wild senior girls volleyball team last fall. “[So] there is some familiarity [and] it won’t be such a new experience.”

While the other five recruits — Taylor Whittall, Randi Dalquist, Chloe Holroyd, Ashley Huberts and Katie Friesen — are arriving in Cranbrook from high schools across Canada, Swanson believes they each have what it takes.

“[Whittall] has played Team BC, [Huberts] has been very, very successful playing beach [volleyball] and the other three who are here from Saskatchewan and Manitoba [have] also played high levels,” he said. “Is there going to be an adjustment? Sure, but the transition will not be as significant because of the experience that they’ve had before coming to COTR.”

According to Swanson, at the beginning of the year he will rely heavily on the team’s four returning players — Alexa Koshman, Mikaela Pushor, Danielle Warner and Megan Clark — to carry over the team’s winning mentality.

“We will lean on [them] to help, particularly the ladies coming right out of high school, in transitioning and what to expect with school and with the rigors of travel,” Swanson said. “[These] veterans have already set the bar very high for the standards of what we expect on and off the volleyball court.”

Koshman, in particular, is a stalwart veteran of the program and has been with the program for the past four seasons. In addition to being the team’s reigning MVP, she is also the only remaining member of the Avs team’s historic 2016 PACWEST provincial championship.

The returning players have several connections to the teams coming to town for the preseason tournament. Koshman, Clark and Pushor are all from the Lethbridge area and Pushor began her career by playing two seasons with the Olds College Broncos from 2014 to 2015.

While all teams involved in the COTR tourney will have some rust, with the Avs having just started training camp last Wednesday with only a single week of practice under their belt, Swanson expects fans to enjoy the games.

“I think it’ll be good volleyball,” he said. “Obviously, the athletes at this time in the season are not in the peak skillset, as [they will be when] the regular season starts, but I think what you will see is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm.

“The effort is going to be really high for all the teams because [there’s] competition against the person and the players across the net [and] in our situation, there is [also competition amongst the team.”

Following the weekend tournament, the Avs will continue daily practices and then participate, along with the men’s team, in the annual Red Rose tournament in Red Deer from September 28 to 30. Their competition at that event will be Red Deer College, SAIT Polytechnic, Olds and Ambrose.

The Avs regular season will begin at home on Friday, October 20 with doubleheaders for both the women’s and men’s teams against the Camosun Chargers.

The 2017-18 Avs regular season schedule consists of 12 home games and 12 road games, and wraps up in mid-February.