Photo and Story Credit - Brad McLeod, Cranbrook Townsman
The College of the Rockies men's volleyball team experienced some big changes over the offseason. They have a new coach, lost most of their starters from last year and have a few fresh faces.
According to Cisco Farrero, the new man at the helm, the Avs have been impressive through the first few weeks of practice.
"So far so good. The guys have been working hard, really responding to maybe a little bit of a different coaching style," Farrero said during a practice last week. "They've come in with open minds and are willing to learn. As a coach coming into a new environment, that's all I can ask for."
The only consistent returning starters from the 2016-17 squad are libero Blake Thomson and outside hitter Julio Lins. Beyond them, the team has six returners who will be counted on to play a bigger role, after spending plenty of time on the bench last year.
"There are going to be some guys that will play this year that haven't really seen a lot of game action previously, and it's time for them to step up," Farrero said. "There are going to be moments where they're not going to look ready and there are going to be moments where they're going to look great."
These players include sophomore outside hitter Matt Cespedes, 2016-17 red-shirt rookie middle blocker Brad Spurge, junior setter Chris Dzioba, sophomore middle blocker Alex Avery, sophomore setter Matt Lavery and senior outside hitter Zach James.
Because of the coaching change over the summer, the team is a little undermanned.
"Our success this season is going to depend on serve and pass, and staying healthy as we only have 11 guys total," Farrero said. "It's likely that we'll have a pretty solid core [though]."
In comparison, the women's Avalanche team have 15 players this year, meaning they'll have more depth than their male counterparts.
Nevertheless, Farrero has been working hard with daily practices to get his small group into game shape and understanding the style of play he wants them to bring.
"We started with really making sure they understood my expectations and then after that, we've gone into ball control and offense right off the bat," he said. "[We haven't done] a whole lot of game action. We've been mostly into drills, [but we've added] a little bit in each practice now where there is something to play for and having guys being comfortable playing together."
The team will get their first opportunity to face competition over the weekend, as they head to Red Deer to participate in the annual 'Red Rose' tournament. While there, they will play Manitoba's Providence University Pilots, Fort McMurray's Keyano College Huskies, Edmonton's King's University College Eagles and the home, Red Deer College Kings.
"We play 3 ACAC (Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference) and Providence College from Manitoba [so] I expect it to be pretty even," Farrero said. "I expect Keyano to be probably our strongest match up, but I expect [the other ACAC teams] to both be pretty strong as well.
"Providence is kind of an unknown, [but] Manitoba has good, strong volleyball, so sometimes they'll have some pretty good kids right out of high school."
The coach said that the tournament will give him a good idea of how his players can handle high-pressure situations.
"[I'll get to see] who can stay composed. I think [that's] a big thing," he explained. "Our consistency is going to be the key to success at the beginning and throughout the season."
The Avs men will be joined by the women for the weekend, who will play Red Deer College, SAIT Polytechnic, Olds College and Ambrose University in their second preseason tournament.
The women excelled in their first exhibition games at home during the beginning of September, only losing one match while playing as a split squad.
The Red Deer tournament will begin for both teams on Friday and end on Saturday. The PACWEST regular season kicks off on Friday, October 20 at the COTR gym against the Camosun College Chargers.
The men and women will each play back-to-back games against the Chargers, before heading out on their first road trip, a four-day excursion to the Lower Mainland to play Capilano University and Douglas College from October 26 to 29.