Story and Photo Credit: Brad McLeod - Cranbrook Townsman
There was visible relief across the faces of the College of the Rockies Avalanche women's volleyball team on Saturday afternoon.
Escaping a five-set match against the Columbia Bible College Bearcats, the Avs won for the first time since early November, ending an eight-game losing streak.
It wasn't an easy path to victory. COTR lost their first match of the weekend on Friday against CBC 3-1 and had to claw themselves out of a 2-1 hole the next day. The team managed to rally, however, and provided a phenomenal fourth quarter comeback.
"We talked [before the game] about the emotional path on how to take the highs and lows, just to try to keep it at an even keel [and] to keep the energy up," said head coach John Swanson. "I thought that the ladies, both on the court and off the court, were fantastic at keeping energy, regardless of how it was going."
Last weekend, during the team's second semester openers against the Capilano University Blues, the Avs failed to immediately bounce back from an injury-plagued first-half in an effort that Swanson described as lacking consistent energy.
On Friday against CBC, it was very much the same story. The Avs were pounded in the first set 25-15, then challenged their opponents in the second by only losing 25-22. In the third, they flipped the script with a 25-19 game, but fell off in the fourth with another 25-15 loss.
Coming into Saturday, there was a determination to stop the bleeding.
"We thought [about how] we had to learn from [our] past experiences, but not dwell on the negative," Swanson explained. "We had a little bit of that challenge [on Friday] so we just had to keep grinding. We were doing the right things, so it was nice to see some of the things that we've worked on [lead to success]."
While the first set on Saturday, a 25-16 loss, was another tough one, the Avs stayed strong and pulled off a 25-22 victory in the second. The third fell in the Bearcats favour 25-20 and they kept the momentum early in the fourth.
Down by six points near the midway mark of the crucial set, COTR went on a run and gained a lead which set up a dramatic ending. Squeaking out a 25-23 victory, the team earned the right to compete in an always unpredictable fifth set.
"[Our success in the fourth] was a combination [of things]," Swanson said. "I think CBC made a couple of errors [so] we can't take all the credit, [but] we pushed, we got some momentum, and I think we gained confidence.
"We battled back and we were there. It's just a couple of points here and there that can make the difference in a set."
In the fifth, COTR executed early and breezed their way to a 15-7 win that sent the bench into an uproar. Swanson credited the win to strong play along the net.
"This was the best we've blocked all year and that's really encouraging because we've focused on that and CBC is a good hitting team," he said. "I think changing that fourth set, we believed in ourselves and then the fifth set is always tough. It's a bit of a coin flip, [but] if you can get momentum early, you just ride that wave, which we did."
The coach was also pleased with how many players put up impact performances.
"Michaela Pushor was fantastic [on] both days [and] Alexa Koshman was outstanding [too]. She's an excellent defensive player and today she executed offensively as well," Swanson said. "I think our middles did an excellent job blocking. Megan Beckett, we [relied] on for that dynamic hit that we need outside. I think Janine did a good job distributing the ball [and] Megan Clark did an excellent job defensively.
"Anybody who came in [off the bench] fit in with the group and kept us with that momentum. Ashley [Huberts] made some plays in the second set that I think turned that set around. She [was] only on for a few points for us, but she's that big of a deal for us."
Beckett led the team in kills for the weekend with 26, while Clark had the most digs with 32 and Abigail Horch had eight blocks. Koshman, meanwhile, had a solid outing with 20 kills and 15 digs.
As a result of the weekend's action, the Avs are in sixth-place in the PACWEST with a record of 5-11 and comfortably in the final playoff position ahead of the 0-16 Camosun Chargers.
The team's next match will be on the road Thursday against the Chargers, the first of four-straight matches that comprise their final road trip. There are eight matches left in total for the Avs before the Provincial tournament, hosted by the University of Fraser Valley Cascades, which takes place at the end of February.