Photo and Story Credit: Brad McLeod - Cranbrook Townsman
Friday night's match went the distance, but the Avs definitely were not too tired to celebrate their win.
Playing the University of Fraser Valley Cascades in their final weekend of the season, the College of the Rockies men's team were all smiles after their five-set victory and there were plenty of hugs, high fives and even a few backflips.
Not only was it the team's first win in front of their home crowd this season, it gave them a chance to extend their year into the PACWEST provincial tournament.
"That's really what we wanted to do, give ourselves a chance," said head coach Cisco Farrero at the end of the weekend. "Right now, we are in that last spot, having to wait for the results of UFV playing CBC next weekend, [but] we had to earn [our chance], and we did."
Led by their three 'Senior' athletes who will be departing COTR at the end of the season, the team came out with a lot of energy on Friday.
Winning the first set decisively by a 25-16 score, the Avs wavered in the second losing 25-20. Being put on the ropes after a 25-19 third set loss, the team mustered a 25-19 win in the fourth before taking the match in an exhilarating 15-12 fifth set.
Third-year Senior outside hitter Julio Lins had 11 kills and seven digs, while fourth-year outside hitter Zach James had 10 kills and six digs and third-year libero Blake Thomson had a team-leading nine digs.
"[All three of our departing Senior players] were really, really good last night," Farrero said. "Julio had, for sure, his best game of the season [and] Zach was really steady. Blake has been pretty darn steady most of the season [too]. It was really good to see those guys play really well in what was their last home weekend."
Also contributing in the victory was sophomore power hitter Matt Cespedes who led the team in kills with 15 and also had three digs and two blocks. Middle blocker Breno Fabbri had a solid outing as well with 10 kills, three digs and two blocks.
"We played with a lot of heart," Farrero said of the match. "Our setting was pretty good yesterday. It's been inconsistent [this year], but it was pretty good yesterday. We made a lot less errors yesterday than we had been.
"The guys ran the game plan quite well and at the end of the fifth set, we just played with a lot of heart."
In a rematch on Saturday, however, the men weren't able to repeat their magic from the previous night. Falling in three sets (24-26, 21-25, 23-25) in a hard-fought but ultimately futile effort.
"[Fifth-year left side hitter] Nick Bruce had a really good game [for UFV], but our setting was not good [either], nor were our brains," Farrero said. "We missed far too many serves… we didn't have that little bit extra push that we needed, that we had [on Friday]."
According to Farrero, the big win the night before might have taken a toll on his team.
"There was definitely a little bit of an emotional hangover [from] winning such an important game," he said. "Realistically, I really wanted to [win] both."
The statistical leaders for the Avs on Saturday were once again Cespedes and Lins, who combined for 19 kills and 13 digs.
With the single win over the weekend, UFV will need to sweep their final weekend against the Columbia Bible College Bearcats in order for COTR to make the playoffs. The Avs are one win ahead of the Bearcats, but CBC own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
If they do make the provincial tournament, their opening round opponents could end up being a number of teams, including UFV.
"We're just going to train ourselves, because even if we do advance, we have no idea who our opponent is going to be. It could be UFV again, it could be Douglas, and it could be Capilano," Farrero said. "We won't know any of that until Saturday, and so we'll just work on ourselves and make sure we stay healthy."
The PACWEST tournament will take place from February 22-24 at the University of Fraser Valley gymnasium in Abbotsford.