Story and Photo credit: Brad McLeod, Cranbrook Daily Townsman
After a miserable 0-4 start on the road in October, the men's Avs took the league by storm in the second half of the first semester.
A 6-2 run brought the Avs to .500 and the fourth spot in the league. As they enter their second semester, they look destined to continue climbing up the PACWEST standings, however, they couldn't have drawn a harder opponent for their return.
The Vancouver Island Mariners are 11-1 and first place in the league heading into the weekend. COTR will be facing an uphill battle against VIU, who demolished the Avs in back-to-back straight set matches during the team's miserable opening weekend.
Head coach Herb Tepper believes the team has grown a lot since their last meeting with the Mariners.
"I think we're a little more experienced and we're playing better together," Tepper said. "It's just a matter of whether we'll be ready to play that team. They were in much better game shape when we played them last, so we'll see what the break did to them as well."
While Tepper said that the break was useful for his players to recover from the various injuries and ailments that they picked up in the first semester, the lack of recent game time could cause them some trouble on Friday.
The VIU men will be fresh off a tour of Los Angeles, California when they come to Cranbrook. The Mariners took advantage of the holiday downtime to train and play exhibition games between December 28 and January 3 in and around the City of Angels, which included a stop at Pepperdine to play against the fourth-ranked team in the NCAA Division 1.
"I think [we] just [need] patience. You're not going to win the game in the first few points, so be patient and get back in the rhythm of playing that game," Tepper said on getting back in the groove in the opening minutes against VIU. "It's going to be pretty fast to start with [so] the key is patience."
While Tepper is hopeful about his team's chances in the second half of the season, he's not taking anything for granted.
"We always want to look in a positive direction obviously [and] the fortunate part about this semester is that we have more home matches, so that should hopefully be to our advantage," he said. "But we have to work hard every single game because everyone's going to be getting better."
As he's been doing all season, the coach is preaching the need for consistency to his players. The Avs ever-increasing ability to come out with the same effort and performance every match has been paramount to their rise in the standings and Tepper wants to see that continue into the new year.
"The key with our team really is consistency, reducing our unforced errors is critical," he said. "If we can keep our unforced errors under 10, we are usually fairly successful.
"[We need to control] our side of the net. We can't have too much influence on what they are doing on their side of the net, but if we can control the ball on our side, I think we can be successful."
The men begin their weekend play right after the women's game on Friday, with a start time set for 8 p.m. On Saturday they face VIU again at 3 p.m.