Photo and Story Credit: Brad McLeod - Cranbrook Townsman
The College of the Rockies Avalanche women's volleyball team kicked off their season in spectacular fashion, winning back-to-back games at home against the Camosun Chargers.
Now, it's time for them to take their show on the road.
With only a few days of rest and preparation, the Avs begin a four-game swing in the Lower Mainland on Thursday as they face the Capilano Blues twice and the Douglas College Royals twice.
According to COTR head coach John Swanson, while this year's Blues are a different team than the group who beat the Avs in last year's PACWEST provincial bronze medal match, they will nonetheless be a formidable opponent.
"Cal [Wohlford], the head coach, runs a very good program there and in playing four matches now they've got some game experience," Swanson said. "Like a lot of other teams in the league [though], they have a new team as well, so there are some players who are [still] learning the collegiate game.
"We've tried to prepare as best we can for them, but I expect they'll be a tough challenge. Capilano always plays tough, every year."
The Blues roster includes seven rookies, three sophomores and three third-years. Key players for Capilano include outside hitter Tyneille Neufeld — last year's team MVP and a PACWEST Second Team All-Star — and right side hitter Anika Kolybaba — a reigning member of the conference's All-Rookie Team.
Following their pair of games at Capilano on Thursday and Friday, the Avs take on last year's PACWEST silver-medal winning Douglas College Royals to end the weekend.
Once again, the situation is similar when it comes to the Douglas roster.
"They've [had] some changes there [too]," Swanson said. "They'll have some new middles, [but] they have a very good right side [in sophomore Vania Silva dos Santos de Oliveira] and their power hitter, Vicki Schley, is back playing with them and their setter Jane [Kepler] is back with them [too].
"Douglas has a good program [and] they'll be tough."
Schley is the Royals only fourth-year, with the team also featuring one third year, seven sophomores and seven rookies.
So far this season, Douglas is 3-1 after splitting with Capilano on the road and sweeping the Columbia Bible College Bearcats at home.
"It's a little bit of a different gym environment there and the lighting is a little bit of a challenge, so for our setters to get used to that at Douglas [will] be tough as well," Swanson said. "We, of course, have scouted them [but] the ladies won't have a lot of time to transition from one program to the other.
"They'll compete. They'll work hard and that's all we can ask [for] as a coaching staff."
With the pair of wins at home to start the year, the Avs have plenty of confidence heading into Vancouver.
They also have the league's top player.
After an incredible 31-kill, 22-dig, three-block and nine-ace weekend against the Chargers, fourth-year right side Alexa Koshman was named the PACWEST's 'Women's Volleyball Athlete of the Week'.
While the honour was not surprising, Koshman's play to kick off the year is a very good sign.
"Quite honestly, it was one of the best performances I've seen as the PACWEST level," Swanson said. "She was incredible… it's very deserving and she's also the kind of person who will keep pushing herself to be better and better.
"She's a dedicated leader and tremendous athlete and player."
But while Koshman will be a definite factor in the team's chances at winning on the road, it's the entire lineup that excites Swanson.
"I've said it many times, but I think the strength of our team is our depth," the coach explained. "We have inexperience, but each practice we put them in a situation where they have to perform and we challenge them.
"They [also] can only improve through actual experience and getting on the court."
With the nature of the team's road schedule, the Avs' nine rookies will undoubtedly get plenty of time to prove themselves over the weekend.
"The situation we're going to have with four matches in a row, they're going to get their opportunities," Swanson said. "There will be some growing pains I'm sure, but there will be lots of positives too, because they will gain that experience."
As for his message heading into the trip, Swanson is only asking for effort and passion from his team.
"We've talked about playing with confidence and we've talked about believing in yourself," he said. "We hope that they will play with passion and desire, but don't let the nerves get the best of them and understand that there will be some mistakes and just honestly enjoy the experience.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how they perform [and] I think they'll be fantastic."
The Avs women play tonight at 6 p.m. against Capilano, followed by the COTR men at 8 p.m. After the four-game weekend, the team's next match is at home against the Vancouver Island University Mariners on Friday, November 10.