*This is a College of the Rockies Avalanche weekend preview that I wrote for the Cranbrook Townsman.*
It was a strange ending to their regular season, but the College of the Rockies Avalanche volleyball teams are still fired up to play in the PACWEST Provincial tournament on Thursday.
After an up and down season for both the men’s and women’s teams, the Avs were expecting to play their final home games against the University of Fraser Valley Cascades on the weekend of February 10.
Unfortunately, extreme weather kept the Cascades at home and they were ultimately forced to forfeit the matches. As a result, the COTR teams both earned fourth-place finishes, but will head into the Provincials more than two weeks removed from game action.
“It was definitely disappointing [because] we get our athletes to practice and train and prepare physically, mentally, emotionally for these league games,” said women’s head coach John Swanson while on route to Nanaimo, where the tournament is being held. “Safety is first and foremost for anybody on the road, though.”
The Avs, however, were able to see the positive element in the situation. Coming in more rested than their opponents could give them an advantage.
“We’ve given our players a little more time to rest and deal with the aches and pains,” Swanson said. “As long as we don’t come out too rusty or nervous, [we can] use that second wind that we probably gained from not having to play those matches.”
In the first round, the women face UFV and Swanson admits that he’s not totally sure what to expect.
“I was hoping to play them [here] because they have a different lineup in the second semester,” he said. “We’ve seen video of them, but I always like to at least play against them to see how we [should] prepare.
“It’ll be a little bit unnerving not having played them for so long, but it’s the same for both teams so it is what it is.”
The Avs only two matches against UFV took place in late November, with the teams splitting the series. If COTR are able to win on Thursday, they’ll meet the top-ranked VIU Mariners on their home Nanaimo court for the semi-finals.
Swanson, however, won’t even think about that yet.
“Our sole focus is completely on UFV,” the coach said. “If we are not successful against UFV, however we prepare for any other team is irrelevant.
“If successful, we will have a quick celebration — probably literally take half-an-hour to just feel good about ourselves — then we quickly look to game plan and strategize for VIU.”
Although they enter the tournament as the defending champions, having pulled off an incredible sixth-place Cinderella story last year, Swanson isn’t concerned about having too big of a bounty on their head.
“Based on the success we had last year, there’s some pressure that I think teams will certainly use as motivation,” he said. “I think the key thing for us is to know what we did last year and build on that, and grow with that and kind of embrace that, and utilize that to our advantage.
“[But] once we get going in a match, it doesn’t matter what we did last year, or even how we finished in the season, it’s two teams competing against each other and whoever’s the best that day are the ones who are going to be successful.”
On the men’s side, the Avs will be facing the Douglas College Royals, a team who went 1-3 against them this season.
“We’ll have to obviously play an A game,” said coach Herb Tepper. “They’re a good team and they actually improved in terms of how their coach has adjusted their lineup.
“We faced them with their new lineup recently so we know exactly what’s going to be coming at us […] we’re fairly comfortable [and] it’s a matter of our guys executing.”
Like Swanson, Tepper sees both sides of the coin when it comes to the longer-than-expected break.
“There’s an upside of rest but a downside of not being in the competitive mode,” Tepper said. “Everyone knows that if you win you move forward if you lose you go home. It is a five-set match, on the other hand, so [we can win] even if we come out a little rusty in the first set.
“That’s not the way we want to go about it, but we’re not going to panic either after one set.”
Since the team didn’t know who their opponent would be until the end of the weekend, the men’s preparation has been pretty basic.
The Avs focused on intensity and defensive, as well as staying healthy. Although they’ve struggled with injuries all season, Tepper believes that they are in good shape heading into Thursday.
“Knock on wood, everything’s good so far,” he said. “[I’m] pretty happy that there’s nothing major to report. Just aches and pains, which is normal.”
While Tepper believes that VIU, the number one ranked team that they will play if they beat Douglas, is the team to beat, like the women, his group isn’t thinking too far ahead.
“[VIU] are a very good team but quite honestly, all the pressure is going to be on them to win,” he said. “[For us], it’s one match at a time and we’re not even going to be thinking about VIU until we, hopefully, get through Douglas.”
While at many points in the season Tepper was only asking that his team be competitive, now that it’s the postseason, the attitude has shifted.
“We’re in a different mode now,” he said. “It’s Provincials so it’s not about just competing, it’s about winning. That’s the ultimate goal, to win it all.
“That’s always been our goal and yes, we’ve had our struggles this season, but we have a very competitive group that if we put it together, I believe that we can [beat] any team.”
The women’s team kick off their tournament at 6:00 p.m. PST and are followed by the men at 8:00 p.m. Every game of the Provincials will be held at the Vancouver Island University (VIU) Nanaimo Campus gymnasium.