Photo and story credit: Brad McLeod, Cranbrook Daily Townsman
The College of the Rockies Avalanche women's volleyball team entered the playoffs as the fourth seed and exited in fourth place, but there's no doubt they're disappointed.
With a large number of returning players from their 2016 Cinderella-story PACWEST Provincial championship team, the Avs had high expectations.
Unfortunately, after an impressive 3-1 win over the UFV Cascades in the quarterfinals, the Avs fell 3-0 to the VIU Mariners in the semifinals and then 3-0 to the Capilano Blues in the consolation game.
Despite the less than ideal finish, head coach John Swanson was pleased with the way his group competed.
"[Against VIU and Capilano] we had moments where we played very, very well," Swanson said. "Unfortunately there were other moments where an error would lead to another error and we just struggled all tournament in being consistent in our execution."
Although Swanson didn't fault his group's effort, he said that the Avs were not able to sustain their scoring runs well enough to win a championship.
While the Avs were able to beat UFV in the opening round despite blowing a 15-3 lead in the second set and an 11-2 lead in the fourth, against the top-ranked VIU Mariners, their lack of finish cost them.
Although the Avs had a very strong opening against the top-ranked host team, getting up 13-5 in the first set, they ended up losing the match in straight sets.
"You have to give VIU credit, their initial start was slow and sluggish but then they got their passing going and got into a rhythm," Swanson said. "We had difficulty stopping their momentum."
After a narrow 25-22 opening set win, the Mariners took it to the Avs with decisive 25-16 and 25-12 wins. VIU advanced to the tournament finals where they beat the Douglas College Royals 3-0 for their 16th PACWEST title.
In the bronze medal game, the Avs were behind the eight ball right away as the Blues were the only team in the league that COTR had not beaten in the regular season.
While Swanson tried to use that as motivation, the playoffs ended up being no different and the team once again lost 3-0 with every set ending 25-18.
"Despite losing the last match [during the season] in Capilano, I thought we outplayed them," Swanson said. "Before the bronze medal game, we told the ladies 'here's an opportunity to beat a team we haven't beaten this year' but it's just a matchup that didn't work out for us.
"We didn't have an answer for them. Our overall team passing wasn't strong enough [and] we didn't block effectively along the net."
Despite the quick ending to a long year, Swanson said the team walked out with their head held high.
"We never gave up, [the team] always kept trying and doing the things that we wanted them to do, and it was just a year that we couldn't get over the hump with them."
In addition to being their last match as a unit, the game was also the end of seven players' Avalanche careers.
Second-year outside hitter and second-team PACWEST all-star Adriel Goodman, third-year middle blocker Taylor Forster, second-year middle Kennedy Koop, third-year outside hitter Mackenzie Morey, second-year setters Sarah Wood and Miranda Myndio, and second-year libero Kolby Fenton, all will not be back with the team next season.
"That's the sad part, but we know that people have to move on and continue their educations," Swanson said. "Last year, we kept a lot of players [so this was a bit different]."
Speaking of the group as a whole, Swanson couldn't say enough good things about the team he had the privilege of coaching.
"I'm incredibly proud of all the ladies, they're outstanding volleyball players but they're also outstanding people," he said. "They do [great work] in the community [with] club volleyball coaching and helping out in a lot of ways and [are also] very diligent academically.
"I'm proud of how they've gotten along together and represented the school."
Although Swanson admitted that, with the large turnover, the Avs will be a young and fairly inexperienced team next season, he's excited about the future of the program.
"With the new group we have coming in, we've been very diligent in our recruiting [to make sure] they continue on with the same expectations as the group we've already been working with," he said. "The [new] ladies are excellent volleyball players and great scholastically.
"They're playing club volleyball right now, so they'll be in good shape and I'm looking forward to another fantastic season and anticipate that we'll be very strong."
On the men's side, the Avs were eliminated in the first round by the eventual bronze medal winning Douglas College Royals in a five-set heartbreaker.
Only three Avs men have been confirmed to be leaving the program, with two middle blockers — third-year captain Spencer Janzen and second-year Duncan Sutherland — and also sophomore outside hitter Patrik Toze moving on from COTR next season.
Both Toze and Janzen were named as PACWEST second-team all-stars for their outstanding seasons.
Although neither Avalanche team were able to earn a medal this season, left side hitter Alexa Koshman was named to the tournament's all-star team for a second straight year.