Photo and Story Credit: Brad McLeod - Cranbrook Townsman
The Avs knew that they would be shorthanded in their Fraser Valley road trip, but their situation quickly went from bad to worse.
Playing against the Columbia Bible College Bearcats and the University of Fraser Valley Cascades from Thursday to Sunday, the College of the Rockies women's volleyball team lost four straight matches.
"It was a very, very difficult trip," said head coach John Swanson on Monday. "Megan got injured on Friday and actually was in the hospital for precautionary reasons… it was very concerning, but fortunately, [besides] being very stiff and sore, she's healthy [and] nothing is broken in her vertebrae."
On Thursday, the weekend started with a reshuffling of their starting rotation. Due to an illness, they were missing a middle blocker and had to have right side hitter Mikaela Pushor fill in at the spot.
"[She] literally had one practice the day before to [learn to] play middle," Swanson said. "She did a great job and was fantastic, but it really changes the dynamic of your starting rotation."
In the opening match against the Bearcats, the Avs lost in straight sets with 25-18, 25-13 and 25-20 defeats. The next day, they lost the rematch, after a 25-19 opening win, in four sets.
Despite her unfortunate injury, Beckett led the team in kills against CBC with 28 in seven sets played. Taylor Whittall, meanwhile, had a dominant pair of matches in digs with 35.
While CBC entered the weekend with a less than stellar 1-7 record, the Avs knew to not take them lightly.
"Every team in the PACWEST is competitive and it's been like that for [all] three years that I've been coaching in the league," Swanson said. "We used to be the team where our record wasn't so great, [so we know] to not look past an opponent.
"CBC battled and had one [very] strong player, fifth-year Jodi Enns, [who] had a lot of opportunities to hit the ball."
Enns had 36 kills and 37 digs in the two matches and was the best offensive player of anyone on the court.
Although COTR didn't roll over in their subsequent two matches against the Cascades, they once again lost at UFV in four sets (25-23, 20-25, 25-22, 25-10) and then another sweep (25-20, 25-15, 25-22).
"I was proud of [the team], because they never quit," Swanson said. "They didn't give up [even] though it would have been easy for them to have gotten rattled after Megan's injury and the concern that everybody had.
"They just kept playing hard and as a coach that's all you can ask for, for your athletes to compete."
Ending the semester with a 4-8 record, good enough for fifth in the league, the Avs hope to really take advantage of the more-than a month-long semester break.
"Our challenge is just going to be, to get healthy," Swanson explained. "Alexa has only played two [full] matches this semester [and] she's arguably our best player. Megan Beckett is the same way. She's our captain and a key player for us, so getting them back will be huge.
"That will be key for us, just to have some of our vets back on the floor. [It's] not just what they can do physically, but mentally to keep the team up and take some leadership."
The silver lining to the semester's end, according to Swanson, was the experience that his large group of rookies received.
"With all the injuries we've had this year, a lot of first year players have gained tremendous experience and played a lot of volleyball," he said. "They gained valuable experience and knowledge, [so] they're going to be better going into the second semester."
The combination of returning veterans and more game-ready younger players should work out well for the Avs.
"We'll have to rely on our first years anyway, because [some of them] will be starting regardless," Swanson said. "I'm hopeful that it will be a little more seamless coming into January [and that] we'll start at a high level and continue to grow.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what we do in the second semester, because we haven't really had our [full] lineup so far this year."
The Av's first match of the new semester will take place on Friday, January 12 at home against the 0-10 Capilano Blues. It will be the first of eight home matches to close out the 2017-18 season.