Photo and Story Credit - Brad McLeod, Cranbrook Townsman
The intensity of a postseason elimination game is usually impossible to replicate under any other circumstances.
According to College of the Rockies women's volleyball head coach John Swanson, however, his team came close to that experience in preseason at the first game of the Red Deer College Queens 'Red Rose' tournament.
"It ended up [being] a pretty full gym with [a lot of] cheering and honestly [it] had the feel of a provincial final," Swanson said of the Thursday night opener against the host Queens. "We were able to roll all our players and it was an incredible match."
Although the Avalanche lost the match in the fifth set by a narrow margin, the experience of the game and the tournament as a whole was invaluable.
"Wins and losses weren't that big of a deal, it was more about getting everyone playing and playing well," Swanson said. "Everyone got an opportunity to get a lot of touches."
The women's team put up a record of 2-2 at the tournament, while the men went 0-4. Being that it was their first gameplay of the year, new coach Cisco Ferraro was not overly upset.
"We were in every match but [just] not consistent enough to pull any of them out," Ferraro said. "I think everyone [on our team] had moments where they did things well."
The weekend started with the women's Thursday showdown against Red Deer, where the Avs were handed a tough but promising 3-2 loss.
Going to five sets, with the fifth being 21-19, Swanson was especially pleased with the team's nine rookies.
"Red Deer basically played most of their starting lineup throughout the whole match and they have quite a few fourth and fifth-year players," he explained. "We never had less than four first-year players on the court at any time. So for our first-year players to play [so well] against [veterans] athletes, that was fantastic."
Unfortunately, during the first set, the team suffered a minor setback as setter Katie Friesen twisted her ankle and was sidelined for the rest of the weekend.
On Friday, the COTR women once again went to five sets, while playing against the SAIT Trojans, and pulled out a 3-2 win.
In the first match on Saturday, the team was led to another win, this time by an unsurprising figure in an unlikely role. Filling in for Friesen, last year's team MVP Alexa Koshman set the majority of the game and boosted the Avs to a 3-1 victory over the Olds College Broncos.
Last season Koshman switched from being a libero to a power hitter and has now shown off even more of her impressive skill set.
"It was something she's never done in a game [at this level] before, but she did really well," Swanson said.
In the team's last match of the weekend, COTR lost 3-2 to the Ambrose Lions in yet another exciting back-and-forth affair to bookended their tournament with close defeats.
After having played very well in their own home preseason tournament in September, Swanson is happy to now have three weeks of practice time before the regular season begins.
"We're still at the point where we haven't solidified specific positions [so] we're going to reevaluate that a little bit [now]," he said. "We're going to continue to fine tune, work on [our] skill set, [and] work together so that [we] have better court awareness with each other."
As for the men, they played two games on both Friday and Saturday but did not manage to get the better of any of their opponents.
Their first game was against Manitoba's Providence University Pilots and the 3-1 loss was a bit of a rough start.
"[In that first game], we definitely had to iron out some kinks on our own side," Farrero said. "When we were good, we were pretty good and when we weren't, we were pretty bad, but that's expected for the first game."
Against Fort McMurray's Keyano College Huskies, the Avs came closer to achieving victory and the coach said that the four-set loss "could have gone either way."
On Saturday, the team had their closest loss, as they took Kings University to five sets, before falling 15-8. While Ferraro attributed the eventual loss to problems with ball control, there were a few standout performances.
"Julio Lins was definitely the best player on the floor [in that match]," he said. "I would [also] say that Alex Avery had a really good day."
In their final game of the weekend against the NAIT Ooks, a team that Ferraro predicts will be the top in their ACAC division, the team once again lost 3-1. It was not an altogether bad weekend, however.
"I would definitely say that everyone had moments," the coach said. "A big surprise was first-year Kyle Butchart [who] was our top scorer in two of the matches, which for a first-year means a lot.
"I [also] really liked our serving this weekend, it was a really big weapon for us. [We have] a lot of guys who have a really good serve and we have some aggressive service power from the service line."
Overall, however, Ferraro knows that the team has a lot of work ahead of them, if they want to compete against top teams in the PACWEST conference.
"We have to be a lot sharper [in the regular season], we were not strong enough on our servicing-to-attack and our transitions," he said. " As a group, we need to work on our cohesion. [We need] to come together [and] get on the same level with some of our expectations.
"There are a lot of guys who expect a lot out of themselves and we have to remember that it's also a team game."
Both Avalanche teams will have three weeks of practice before starting their regular season against the Camosun Chargers, at home, on Friday, October 20. The Avs and Chargers will play back-to-back matches in Cranbrook, before COTR goes on their first road trip the following weekend to the Lower Mainland.