STORY CREDIT: Brad McLeod, Cranbrook Townsman
There were a lot of expectations coming into the weekend and the Avs met them all and then some.
The College of the Rockies men's volleyball team swept the Columbia Bible College Bearcats last Thursday and Friday, and then managed to pull out a win against the University of Fraser Valley Cascades, handing them their first home loss of the year, to close out their first-semester play.
Although the matches against CBC were supposed to be easy — the Bearcats were 0-10 heading into the games — men's coach Herb Tepper said that assumptions made the contests more difficult.
"The first two nights were a challenge because I believed all the pressure was on us," Tepper said on Tuesday morning. "We were playing a team that was the quote 'worst team in the league', so all the pressure was on us to perform.
"I think our guys did a pretty good job … we went 3-0 on the first night and then 3-1 on the next night, so not too bad," he continued. "We had one bad set on the second night against CBC. Although they've been defeated this semester, they're still a decent team and quite honestly it's challenging to win against any team in this league."
The smooth victories over CBC set up a great conclusion to the road trip where the odds were stacked against them at UFV.
The Cascades were 7-2 on the year, good enough for second in the PACWEST, and hadn't lost a single game on their home court heading into the matches. They showed their power in the early stages of Saturday's game taking a two-set lead with 25-13 and 25-15 wins.
"In the first two sets, we were dismal, we had no fight in us, no compete," Tepper said on his team's initial response to adversity. "[So] I challenged the guys and in the third set we were down 8-4 and we found a way to struggle back [and] had a couple breaks and suddenly we were back in the set."
Although the Avs were not able to win on Saturday, their increase in energy and passion carried them strongly into the following day's action.
"The level of compete went up big time and the boys showed a huge amount of heart and we ended up winning that third set on Saturday," Tepper said. "That sort of was the difference for both that Saturday match and then on Sunday.
"We came very close even on Saturday, that next set was very close and it was very competitive and back-and-forth," he continued. "It was actually 24-23 for UFV and we ended up hitting into a block 1-on-1 … we had a chance to tie it up [but] then the match was basically over."
On Sunday, the Avs lost the first set 25-19 but then never looked back.
"The guys were very tenacious [and] came back and won the next three in a row, in pretty spectacular fashion," Tepper said. "In the final set, we were up 24-23 and the coach for UFV called a timeout to try to ice Pat [Toze] because he was about to go back to serve, and he came back and clean aced to win the match — it was pretty exciting."
The Avs had a multitude of players give huge performances over the four-game road trip. Patrik Toze was once again an offensive juggernaut with 43 kills and 6 ace serves. David Dobson was a reliable hitter with 40 kills, Blake Thomson was strong at libero with 30 digs, and Duncan Sutherland put up a wall with 11 blocks.
The men now have a month of rest in between semesters to heal from injuries and come out even stronger in January.
"It's wearing, [we've had] 38 practices to date, as well as the weekend trips and home matches [so] it's hard on the guys' bodies and we have a lot of guys that are hurting so this rest is going to be essential," Tepper said. "But it's difficult because you do get rusty when you're 18-20 years old and don't play for a month.
"I'm going to give them a break and then we're going to go back and try to get in the best game shape possible [for] January."
The team's first game upon returning for the new year is on January 6 at home against the Vancouver Island University Mariners. VIU is the top team in the PACWEST with a startling 11-1 record.
Tepper, however, is happy with his team's own 6-6 record which has them in fourth place in the conference.
"We started 0-4 and after that, we went 6-2, so that's a good rebound," he said. "It was a challenging start to the season for many reasons, so I'm very proud of the team and what we accomplished this semester. But it's just the start and really it's what happens next semester that is key."