Photo and story credit: Brad McLeod - Cranbrook Townsman
From a coaching perspective, it wasn't quite the weekend John Swanson was hoping for.
As a volleyball fan, however, the COTR Avalanche women's head coach couldn't help but enjoy the four-match trip in the Lower Mainland.
"Obviously I'm a coach, but I become a fan [during these matches]," Swanson said. "I remember cheering some of the plays [Capilano] made defensively and Douglas College [made offensively] — it was fantastic."
Although the Avs only managed to go 1-3 in back-to-back doubleheaders over the weekend against North Vancouver's Capilano University and New Westminster's Douglas College Royals, the team competed valiantly despite many obstacles.
"To try to get a split is usually the best case scenario, [other than winning every match], but the ladies played well [overall]," Swanson said. "Going into gyms that [most of our players] were not familiar with and teams we hadn't played yet, there [was] a lot of learning.
"We look at video on the road and try to prepare as best we can, but until you actually see it [up close], it's hard."
After a lengthy bus ride all the way from Cranbrook on Wednesday, the Avs were further handicapped for the Thursday opening match at Capilano by missing two vital players — sophomore libero Megan Clark and senior outside hitter Alexa Koshman — due to educational commitments.
While rookie Brooke Lightburn stepped up in a big way as a replacement starting libero, and helped the team pick up a 29-27 first set win, the Blues got the better of the Avs in the next three.
Winning 25-21, 25-23 and 25-21, Capilano squeaked out the opening match win on their home court.
The next day, once again playing Capilano, the Avs got a boost in the return of Clark and Koshman, even though only one of them was on the floor.
"At the very end of [last] Wednesday's practice, Alexa sprained her foot [and] we weren't sure if she was going to be able to play," Swanson said of the reigning PACWEST women's volleyball athlete of the week. "There [was] no point in pushing her and making [the injury] worse, [because] that's why we have our depth.
"Alexa had fantastic energy on the sidelines and became like an assistant coach [for the weekend]."
COTR came out swinging on Friday night and earned a 25-21 first set win. While they lost the second 26-24, the Avs rebounded and turned 25-16 and 25-19 sets into a match victory.
"Volleyball is volleyball, but learning tendencies of how certain players hit, shots that they make and how they serve [is] a huge learning experience," Swanson said of the team's improvement over the two days. "It was nice that we came back that second day and played well… their coach went with a little bit different personnel [and] strategy and our ladies took advantage of that and played well."
Stepping up in the victory, were power hitters Megan Beckett, Taylor Whittall and Mikaela Pushor who led the team in kills with nine, 10 and 14 respectively. Clark also had an impressive night defensively with 18 digs.
Heading to Douglas on Saturday, the Avs once again had an impressive first set before tailing off. Winning 25-23, the Royals regrouped and handily won 25-16, 25-15 and 25-12.
"Some of the players that were their starters [last season], didn't play in the first set on Saturday or Sunday," Swanson said. "So the opposition had a little bit different personnel and then they brought in their normal starters in the second [who] are very strong.
"We have to learn to elevate our compete level [in that situation] and I think we had trouble doing that."
While the team lost 3-1 again on Sunday afternoon (21-25, 25-13, 25-13, 25-23), they did not leave without a fight.
"In the last set on Sunday against their top players, we played very well," Swanson said. "It would've been easy to pack it in and head home, but [we] didn't, [we] showed a lot of heart and showed what COTR volleyball represents."
Statistically, through the four games, the Avs were led by Beckett, who had 42 kills and 37 digs, and Pushor, who had 33 kills and 30 digs.
With a 3-3 record through six matches, the team is now tied for fourth in the PACWEST standings with Capilano, while Douglas is tied for first with a 5-1 record.
The Avs next game is on Friday, November 10 at home against the defending Provincial champion Vancouver Island University Mariners, who are 4-0 to start the season. According to Swanson, Koshman should return to practice this week and be able to play against VIU.