Story and photo credit: Brad McLeod, Cranbrook Daily Townsman
Coming into Saturday, the Avs knew what they needed to knew.
Despite having lost five straight matches, the women's College of the Rockies volleyball team were sure that they were close to putting it all together in their rematch against the Columbia Bible College Bearcats that afternoon.
"We had a team meeting [before the match] and it was a challenge, individually and then collectively as a team, to defend," head coach John Swanson said following his team's 3-0 victory. "We actually passed very well [on Friday]. I think we attacked quite efficiently, but we did not defend along the net or defend our back row nearly well enough."
On Friday night, the Avs faced another setback in what had been a challenging stretch for the defending PACWEST provincial champions.
After starting out the second semester 3-1 in four home matches, the Avs went 0-4 on a road trip to Douglas College and Capilano University.
Playing CBC at home seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back on track. The Bearcats were 3-17 going into the weekend and in last place in the league.
Having split a series with them earlier in the season, however, the Avs knew that picking up wins wouldn't be easy.
They were proved absolutely right and CBC won the first set 25-18. While the Avs battled back, only falling 26-28 in the second and winning 25-17 in the third, the Bearcats squeaked out a close 3-1 victory with a 25-23 fourth set win.
The next day, changes were made.
"[Our challenge to every player] was to take care of your area along the net or your area in the back row and make some defensive plays," Swanson said. "And that was the difference [on Saturday], that we were able to do that."
Although it was a 3-0 win, it was by no means a decisive victory. The opening set came down to the wire with a 25-23 outcome and CBC was resilient in a 25-21 second. The third was really the only time the Avs felt some breathing room with a 25-15 victory.
"[In] this conference, regardless of what your record is, regardless of anything, it's always competitive," Swanson said. "We knew coming in, that despite CBC's record, it was not going to be an easy match.
"I was proud of the ladies for battling and we were able to get whoever we put on the floor at the time to battle and compete and that's what I was really proud of."
Libero Megan Clark was a standout for the Avs throughout the entire weekend. After missing the year's first four matches with an injury, the rookie out of Lethbridge was stunning in her return to the COTR gym, putting up 28 digs over 7 sets.
In the Saturday match especially, Clark was the lifeblood of the team's defensive resurgence stopping several balls that seemed destined for the floor.
"[Clark] was outstanding both days," her coach said. "She passed very, very well [and] I think read defensive plays very well too."
Swanson also praised the play of captain Mikaela Pushor who had a team-leading 10 kills in their victory after struggling in limited playing time the night before.
"By her own admission, [Pushor] struggled [on Friday] and she only played one set," he said. "But she came out and I thought played [great]."
As always, the team was aided by big performances from power hitters Alexa Koshman and Adriel Goodman. Koshman ended the weekend with 29 digs and 18 kills, while Goodman had 16 digs, 26 kills, and also 7 ace serves.
Third-year middle blocker Taylor Forster was also a leader, with an outstanding presence along the net and earning four blocks in each match.
The main key to success in Swanson's eyes, though, was their play as a complete unit.
"We didn't let the tips score much [and] we were better along the net and got our hands on balls," he said. "I think collectively, everybody was better."
With the win on Saturday, the Avs (8-14) clinched a playoff spot but their final spot in the standings is still to be determined. Currently tied for fourth place in the PACWEST with Camosun (8-12), the Avs could go into the postseason anywhere between fourth and sixth.
In their final weekend, COTR faces the fifth-place UFV Cascades (7-13). The pair of matches on Friday and Saturday should provide a good test to get into the do-or-die Provincials spirit.
"UFV will come in and they're going to be a very tough match up," Swanson said. "They're playing very well right now.
"It's the same old story, we're going to have to be sharp defensively, attack efficiently [and] pass well. It'll be a good set up again for us going to provincials and having to compete at a high level."
The last matches of the season for the Avs go at 6 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday at the College gymnasium.