It was a packed house on Friday night as College of the Rockies students, parents and fans watched their Avalanche volleyball teams kick off the 2017-18 season at home.
As part of ‘Paint the Gym Pink’ night, a promotion in support of breast cancer awareness, the Cranbrook community filled the COTR gym with energy and enthusiasm.
In return, the Avs treated them to a thrilling opening match.
Taking on the Camosun Chargers, who entered the weekend at 0-2 in the PACWEST standings, the women’s team dominated early before their opponents made it a competitive night.
Going all the way to five sets, the Avs hung on and earned a huge victory with the help of their raucous crowd.
“Camosun had a match under their belt and for us it was [our first], so I’m glad that we could go through those learning curves at home and have the support of the crowd,” said head coach John Swanson on Saturday. “A win is a win, and we’ll take it, however close it is.”
The match started out with red-hot play from the Avs, who took an early lead and finished the first set with a commanding 25-11 score. The second was very much the same as they put Camosun on the ropes with a 25-16 win.
At that point though, the Chargers cracked the Avs game plan and started a comeback.
“It was a tough situation because we just kind of rolled them for two sets, but then Camosun came back and I think they served much more effectively,” Swanson said. “We struggled a bit with that [and] lost momentum.”
Falling 20-25 and 22-25, the match went to a 15-point tiebreaker and forced COTR to be at their best.
Securing an early 6-1 lead, the match came down to the wire with the Avalanche women finally winning 15-13 and receiving a large ovation from their fans.
“I was so proud of them for stepping up, even getting off to a quick start [in that 5th set] because it would have been easy to be deflated,” Swanson said. “[Nearing the end, we were] down 13-12 and were in a very stressful situation… [we] let [the match] slip away from us, but [then] came back and battled.”
The team was led, in most respects, by fourth-year power hitter Alexa Koshman who had a team-leading 12 digs, 15 kills and five aces while playing all five sets.
Playing in her final year before graduation, Swanson said that she was, unsurprisingly, a key part of the team’s win.
“Koshman play[ed] at a completely different level. We really needed that and she came through,” he said. “That being said, even the veteran leadership of Megan Clark, Mikaela Pushor, Danielle Warner, all those players, even if they weren’t on the stat sheet, [brought] high energy and [got] hands on balls and [kept] balls alive.
“Megan Beckett, as well, being a first year to our program, but being an experienced player, was fantastic.”
The team also had several rookies make their debuts on Friday night, including Janine Harach who played in all five sets and had 26 assists as a controlled setter.
“The players who are first year [have come in] fairly seamlessly,” Swanson said. “I don’t want to single out any of them, [because] everybody who came on the floor did an excellent job.
On Saturday afternoon, the Avs returned to the court for an immediately competitive rematch with Camosun.
Although the first set ended in COTR’s favour, by a score of 25-22, it was neck-and-neck the whole way. In the second, the Chargers got the better of the Avs in another tight 23-25 set.
The third was once again 25-23 but in the Avs favour, and the team finally completed the weekend sweep with a 25-20 fourth set.
“I have to give our opposition credit. I think Camosun made us earn the points,” Swanson said of the weekend as a whole. “They made a lot of good digs and kept points alive and challenged us.
“The PACWEST is tough, no matter who you’re playing or what the records are, [so] it was a great experience for the ladies to go through that.”
Koshman once again picked up the most kills in the second match, with 16, but received significant help from some other teammates. Libero Megan Clark led the team in digs with 15 and new sophomore Sarah Calkin had six aces and six blocks.
According to Swanson, while it would have been ideal to have finished up both matches quicker, the chance to play a lot of players and make mistakes was not necessarily a bad way to start the year.
“We have quite a young team generally, so it allowed the opportunity to get some more players in [to gain] experience,” he said. “That’s a huge thing. [On Saturday], I played some different players and it’s not because anybody was struggling or not playing well, it was just [to give others] an opportunity to [play and get some] quality minutes.”
With a perfect start at home, the Avs have a quick turnaround and head out on their first four-game road trip this week. Playing from Thursday to Sunday, the team will be in the Lower Mainland taking on the 3-1 Douglas College Royals and the 2-2 Capilano Blues.
“We’ll try to get them as mentally and emotionally prepared as possible,” Swanson said. “On the road, they’re not going to have the volume of the crowd and it’ll be up to us individually, and collectively as a group, to really have high energy on the floor.
“We have to go through that experience and hopefully we can allow the volleyball skills to supersede the mental or emotional kind of stress [of the road].”
The COTR Avalanche next play at home on Friday, November 10 against the defending provincial champions, the Vancouver Island University Mariners.