Photo and Story Credit: Brad McLeod - Cranbrook Townsman
The College of the Rockies women's volleyball team are well aware of the challenge ahead of them at the PACWEST Provincial Championships.
Entering the tournament as a sixth-seed, the Avalanche will be facing the host University of Fraser Valley Cascades on Thursday in Abbotsford in the quarter finals. They will, therefore, have to play the role of both underdogs and visitors.
"We have to [embrace the position were in]," said head coach John Swanson on Monday evening. "We have to come in understanding that we're going to have to play at our best, and I think they're capable of doing that.
A young team with 10 rookies, the Avs will attempt to channel their 2015-16 predecessors who went from sixth-place to Provincial champions in an incredible Cinderella run. While the only remaining player from that squad, Alexa Koshman, will not travel with the team to Abbotsford, the precedent is there for extreme success.
"Probably the only similarity [between 2015-16 and this season] is that we're sixth place," Swanson said. "[But] at least [there is an] understanding of what this school did two years ago. It is a completely different group, but we know that some team has done that in the past, so it's not insurmountable, it's not impossible."
The Avs played UFV in their final two matches of the year, splitting a weekend series in Cranbrook. COTR won the first match of the weekend in four sets, before being swept, to end the regular season.
With head-to-head competition in such recent memory, the two teams should be familiar with each other from the get-go on Thursday.
"It's nice that we had the last league match against them, [but] it works both ways, of course," Swanson said. "They know what to expect from us and vice versa. We know the challenges. It's their home court, so we're going to have to bring a lot of energy, and really focus on those things that we can control."
Without Koshman, the Avs will have to rely on their few remaining veteran athletes including third-year PACWEST player Megan Beckett, fourth-year college player Mikaela Pushor, and second-year libero Megan Clark.
Beckett, a power hitter who previously played with a top-flight Camosun College team who won a provincial silver medal in 2014-15, led the team in kills during the regular season with 245 in 83 sets. Clark, meanwhile, had the eighth best dig-per-set percentage in the conference with 3.18.
According to Swanson, his team's focus against UFV will be on the simple aspects of the game.
"We always say 'serve and serve receive' and it will be a big thing for us," he said. "UFV serve very aggressively, [and] they've got quite a few players on the ace leaderboard. So, we'll have to make sure, being in their gym, that we really bear down and focus on serve-receive.
"Conversely, we need to serve tough too. We need to find some seams and just be effective in our serving."
Rookie UFV left side hitter Amanda Matsui finished the season as the PACWEST's service ace leader with 52, and was also fifth in kill-percentage, one spot ahead of Beckett. She will be a definite threat to COTR, along with fourth-year Kim Bauder, who put up 290 digs and 229 kills in 89 sets this season.
Heading into the tournament, Swanson feels optimistic about the Avs chances.
"I've been excited [by] how we've finished these last couple of practices, because I think the energy was good," he said. "If we just go in there and compete, not let anything hit the floor, and play through the points, whatever happens, happens.
"I'm sure [UFV is] not going to underestimate us, [and] it should be a very competitive match."
The Avs quarter final match against Camosun is scheduled for Thursday at 6:00 p.m. PST and if they win they will play in the semis at 6:00 p.m the next day. The 2018 PACWEST Provincial Championships are being held at the University of Fraser Valley in Abbotsford.
The COTR men's team is also entering the tournament as a sixth seed, opening their championship bid with a match against the three-time reigning champion Camosun Chargers.