Photo and Story Credit: Brad McLeod - Cranbrook Townsman
The College of the Rockies Avalanche volleyball program held their annual team awards banquet on Friday night, which honoured the best and brightest from the men's and women's teams.
The 2017-18 season was a roller coaster ride for both squads. The Avs women battled significant injuries en route to a 7-17 record and the sixth seed at the PACWEST championships, before falling in the first round. The men, meanwhile, were victorious in an emotional must-win final regular season match to punch their ticket as a sixth-seed at the championships. They ended up losing in three sets to the eventual champion Camosun Chargers.
The Avalanche team award winners reflected the year well, with an appropriate mixture of young, up-and-coming rookies and departing seniors, as COTR celebrated their achievements while also looking keenly to the future.
"Building team chemistry, trust, and even [just] trying to remember the names of all the new players became a high priority during the first couple of weeks of our season," he said. "The group we had was a really inexperienced bunch, [and] our vets were fantastic in taking them in and showing them the ropes.
"We had a lot of challenges with injuries, [but] what I'm proud [of] is that it didn't matter what the scenario was, whoever had to come in, [they] came in and worked really hard and just tried their best."
Taking home the award for 'Most Improved Player' was rookie middle blocker Randi Dalquist. Becoming a starter relatively early in the year due to injuries, Dalquist finished the season with 62 kills, 39 digs and 27 blocks in 76 sets played.
The team's 'Rookie of the Year' was outside hitter Taylor Whittall, who had 112 kills and 149 digs in 55 sets after being tasked with a key role as an offensive finisher and defender along the net and back row.
"With so many rookies playing so many significant minutes, many players could have been deserving of this award," Swanson said. "[Whittall's] work ethic served her very well in becoming one of the top performing rookies in the league, [and] I feel she has only scratched the surface of her full potential."
Winning the 'Most Valuable Player' award was fourth-year right side hitter Mikaela Pushor. A new addition to the team last season, Pushor cemented her star-status in 2017-18 with a stat line that included 168 kills, 136 digs and 34 blocks while playing in all 24 matches.
"Due to the diversity we had within our team, we needed our MVP to take on many roles," Swanson said. "She needed, at times, to be our best player on the court, team counsellor, team mom, team disciplinarian, team listener, team leader, on and off the court.
The final women's award of the night was the 'Avalanche Award' which goes to the player who best exemplifies what it means to be a COTR athlete. Receiving the honour for a fourth-straight year, Alexa Koshman put a final stamp on an illustrious career.
Despite having had her final season complicated by injuries, the part-time libero and outside hitter finished the 2017-18 season with 121 kills and 192 digs in only 58 sets. The totals were good enough to make her the all-time COTR digs-leader and second overall in sets played.
"Alexa Koshman, simply put, is the gold standard in everything that is right in becoming an Avalanche student athlete," Swanson said. "As a student, Alexa has a passion and enthusiasm unlike any other, and truly wants to become a positive influence as a teacher in her students' lives. As an athlete, her body of work is unprecedented.
"I've never had the pleasure of working with another athlete, male or female, with the overall skill level that Alexa paints."
On the men's side, new head coach Cisco Farrero doled out awards to a team that he described as "really special". Despite having coming in late to take the reins over the summer, without a chance to recruit his own players, Farrero was very happy with the tenacity and determination of his 11 player bench.
"I always felt that this group of guys would give us a shot," the coach said in his speech. "We would always give our best effort [and] at no point was I ever disappointed in how hard we played and how hard we represented the College of the Rockies.
"I'm not satisfied with our record, [but] I'm really proud of this group of guys and I'm really proud of the direction this program is going."
Farrero presented the 'Most Improved Player' award to second year setter Matt Lavery. The team's only locally-trained athlete, the Cranbrook product had 10 kills, 108 assists and 27 digs while playing in 18 matches and 41 sets.
"Every time I gave him a new skill or directive, Matt just worked at doing it," Farrero said. "He just improved bit by bit [and] was on a constant upswing. He was able to set at the PACWEST level, and he was also able to come off the bench as a key serving substitute."
Taking home the 'Rookie of the Year' award was middle blocker Breno Fabbri. A 6'8 player from San Paulo, Brazil, Fabbri came into the league with ease and had 119 kills, 57 digs, 23 aces and 45 blocks in 86 sets.
"His presence at the net was massive, literally," Farrero said. "It made our defense easier to play around [because] he slowed down so many balls as a blocker… he's probably the smartest volleyball player I've ever been around."
The team's 'Most Valuable Player' award went to libero Blake Thomson, who ended his three-year COTR career with a team-leading 162 digs in 85 sets. The impressive year placed him second overall in the Avs leaderboards for digs, only behind five-year athlete Kellan Ward.
"One of my favourite things about Blake, was that I literally didn't [have to] coach him all game," Farrero said. "I know, and I trust, that I can leave him and he knows what we need next… Blake [was] just so steady, through our good games, through our bad games, [he was] that constant."
Finally, the men's 'Avalanche Award' was given to fourth-year veteran Zach James. An outside hitter and libero, James wrapped up his career with a breakout season in which he had 109 kills and 120 digs in 86 sets. In his four years with the program, he had four separate head coaches, but stuck around through all the changes.
"It takes a dedicated, committed, and tough athlete to stick around for that, [and] it really says something to Zach's character" Farrero said. "He poured his heart and soul into the Avalanche program and his commitment is more than deserving."
Aside from the separate team awards, the program also presented one award that was open to both men and women. The 'Sun City Coachlines Freshman Athletic Award' was given to Taylor Whittall for her outstanding performance as a first year post-secondary student athlete.
The program also recognized academic achievements with a 2016-17 CCAA National Scholar Award being presented to former player Miranda Myndio, PACWEST Academic Excellence awards being give to Alex Avery, Matt Lavery and Alexa Koshman, and College of the Rockies Academic Excellence awards going to Lavery, Avery, Koshman, Mikaela Pushor, Ashley Huberts, Taylor Whittall and Janine Harach.
The night ended with final recognitions being made to the four graduating senior members of the team: Koshman, Thomson, James, and Julio Lins.
The 2018-19 COTR Avalanche season will begin in October, with the year wrapping up with the PACWEST championships being hosted in Cranbrook in February. The Key City last hosted the event in 2013 and both squads are eager to once again put on a great show.