*This is a College of the Rockies Avalanche weekend preview that I wrote for the Cranbrook Townsman.*
The road is never easy for the Avalanche, and that’s no secret.
With a 3-5 record in away games so far this season, the College of the Rockies women’s volleyball coach John Swanson knows that their final trip is important, but he doesn’t want to get too hung up on winning.
“I just really want us to be competitive,” Swanson said of heading to Douglas College and Capilano University for four straight matches from Thursday to Sunday. “In any match that we play, if we’re competitive, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
For Swanson, their record isn’t the ultimate goal for the weekend. The team is sitting in a fairly comfortable position at fourth place in the PACWEST with seven wins and nine losses. Only one team in the league doesn’t make the playoffs and with Columbia Bible College at 3-15, the Avs don’t need to worry too much.
“We could lose three straight [sets] in a match and play very, very well,” Swanson said. “Vice versa, we might not play very well and win three in a row. That’s nice for our record, but as a coach if I know that we aren’t performing to our abilities or playing exceptionally well, but the competition just played that much better, that’s really what I’m interested in.
“Obviously winning on the road is important but I just really want to make sure that our team is competitive in any match we play, against any team, with any personnel that we have on the floor.”
The Douglas College Royals (12-4) and the Capilano Blues (11-5) are in second and third place in the league, respectively. While the Avs split their series with Douglas last semester and dropped both games to Capilano, COTR has momentum having won three of their first four games of the second semester including a big win over the top-ranked VIU Mariners.
“We’ve played well [so far this year] and I’m looking forward to seeing where we are against these teams,” Swanson said. “It’ll be a tough challenge but I’m looking forward to it.”
Swanson also said that he’s eager to get the chance to play a lot of his lineup, including players who haven’t seen a lot of game time.
With so many matches in a row, a flu-bug going around the team, and a number of nagging minor injuries, it’s necessary to not overload the team’s stars and the coach is confident in anyone he puts on the floor.
“We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve had a lot of our team be interchangeable throughout the season,” he said. “Whoever we’ve put in has played well, whether they start the match [or not]. The depth that we’ve had has been a strength of ours.
“We’d love to get some players in who haven’t had a lot of playing time because they’ve performed and practiced very well.”
While the Avs have had a tremendous amount of success lately, the team is still looking to improve, especially in their first set play. COTR has only won one of their past three opening sets, which was a tight 29-27 victory against Camosun in a 3-1 win.
“[The team] has been working hard in practice and the intensity is up, which I’m really pleased about,” Swanson said. “I know that the ladies have made a conscious effort to really push themselves in practice since we’ve tried to focus on being a little more competitive in that first set instead of coming out of the gate a little bit slow.”
Although this will be the last road trip until the Provincials for many of the players, who will move on from the team at the end of the year, Swanson doesn’t believe that too many players are getting wistful just yet.
“We haven’t focused [on how close we are to the end of the year] because there’ll be a lot of emotions but I know that some players are seeing that it’s coming to an end,” he said. “I hope that we can get their best and they embrace the end of the season.
“Maybe the final match is when the floodgates will open and the tears will flow, but I know that [we’re] a very focused group and we want to perform well for the College and the community.”
Beyond the team success in early January, the Avs have also had a number of incredible individual performers.
Left side hitter Alexa Koshman won the PACWEST’s ‘Female Volleyball Athlete of the Week’, honour for her play against Camosun, just a week after outside hitter Adriel Goodman was given the same award for her play against VIU.
The back-to-back accolades made history for the team as, with the addition of Kennedy Koop being named ‘Athlete of the Week’ in November, the school earned the accolade three times in a year for the first time ever.
The Avalanche men and women kick off their road trip on Thursday night at Douglas College, who they play again on Friday before heading to Capilano for back-to-back matches on Saturday and Sunday. Following the weekend, the Avs will only have four games remaining in their season, all at home.