Story & Photo Credit: Paul Rodgers - Cranbrook Townsman
The season opening games for the College of the Rockies Avalanche teams take place this weekend and both the men's and women's squads are feeling confident heading in after plenty of training in the off-season.
The first games against the Douglas Royals are on Friday beginning at 6 p.m. for the women's match, with the men following at 8 and Saturday starting at 1 p.m. with the men following at 3.
The men's squad has a total of nine returning athletes and nine new players to their program. Head coach Cisco Farrero called his recruiting class deep and skilled, and noted most of his core players from last year have returned, with five of their seven starters coming back.
"We have a number of our incoming recruits that are at a talent level of close to starting so we've had a lot of really, really competitive practices, which have really pushed our athletes to preform better in practice. And it's a way better quality of practice which should make our games better."
Farrero explained that generally the coach looks to bring about five or six new recruits in each season, usually due to athletes moving on new locations in the pursuit of new academic opportunities.
"We had a bit of a smaller roster in the first two seasons here so we were looking to expand the size of our roster as well which is why we brought in nine instead of let's say five or six," he said, adding that he anticipates next season's recruiting class to be quite small as they will maintain most of their core team.
As far as how he feels after the last weeks of practice leading up to the season opener against the challenging opponent the Douglas Royals, Ferrero is confident but says that he "definitely thinks that we still have some question marks."
"We've played Douglas College," he said. "They are very good and we will have to play quite well to win either Friday or Saturday night. And I expect us to rise up and to give ourselves a really good chance."
Practice has ramped up, not necessarily in terms of intensity, but in terms of focus, honing in on gameplay rather than skill.
"It's been different sort of last week and a half, putting some offensive things together and trying to figure out what is our best lineup."
Ferrero says that the team has a great deal of depth and that he believes their best lineup ends up becoming something that's "fluid."
"Guys have to understand that their role one night may change through that match and then it might be a different role the very next game, and I think that that is something that will be the biggest learning process for us, is having guys be able to then be able to do different things and be able to rise up when their number's called."
He hopes to see his squad head into their first games confidently and assertively, dictating the game instead of letting it come to them.
"A lot of our core of our team have been around the conference for at least one season," Ferrero said. "And then we will have some players on the floor who are playing for the very first time at this level and I think I just want us to be cohesive and confident and aggressive."
Ferrero added that he is looking forward to having a big home crowd and says he and the squad are going to give fans a good exciting season to watch this year.
Women's head coach Bryan Fraser, new to the team this year from Saskatoon, said the squad has been hard at work on the training front as well. They had a pre-season tournament in Olds where they competed well, and have played inner-squad games as well. They've switched their weight training program they were on from heavy strength and conditioning to a tapering program and he says the girls are in good shape.
"They've been working hard and we've been implementing new systems and things, so our confidence level is quite high," Fraser said. "We've been training really well, everyone's bought in on the team and looking forward to what we can do come Friday and Saturday."
They've also been analyzing a great deal of video footage, preparing to meet their first rival Douglas this weekend. The women's squad has seven first-year athletes and six returning.
"It's a fairly new squad but the players who are returning are pretty solid veterans who know the game well," Fraser said.
Fraser adds that he's interested to see how the girls play with each other and that they will likely try a few different lineups and player combinations in the games this weekend.
"There will be nerves, but we'll see how we handle those and we'll learn from that," he said. "And Douglas is a good opponent so it's a nice start just to see how we're going to rank up in the league this year."