Julio Lins (left) and Blake Thomson (right) are two of four players on the COTR Avalanche men’s team who will not be returning next season. (Brad McLeod Photo)

COTR Avalanche men expect emotional weekend in must-win final matches

Hosting UFV Cascades to end regular season, volleyball team also saying goodbye to four key players

The College of the Rockies Avalanche men’s volleyball team are all ready to leave everything they’ve got out on the floor this weekend.

For four of them, it won’t only be a mission to extend their season, they’ll be looking to prolong their COTR careers.

Tied in last place in the PACWEST standings, the Avs need at least one win this weekend to have a shot at making the Provincial tournament. Julio Lins, Blake Thomson, Zach James and Matt Lavery are all playing their final season, and have extra motivation to excel against the University of Fraser Valley Cascades on Friday and Saturday.

Lins, an outside hitter from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has played three seasons in Cranbrook, and is currently third amongst the program’s all-time kill leaders. Having had more than just a different level of volleyball to adjust to upon his arrival, he knows that saying goodbye will be emotional.

“I feel sad, obviously, because it’s my last game, [but] on the other hand, I feel happy because I [was able] to stay here for three years,” Lins told the Townsman. “It was a challenge for me coming from another country and [having] everything be new. My financial situation was not good when I got here, so being here for three years means that I was really strong.”

According to Lins, acting as the team’s floor captain this season really proved to himself how far he’s come.

“When I got here, I could barely speak English, [now] I’m the captain of the team who has to talk to the referee every time, ” he said. “It was a challenge, but the guys helped me a lot.”

Above achieving success on the volleyball court, a persistent thought for Lins and his departing teammates, heading into their final weekend, is all the friendships they’ve made through the program.

Outside hitter Zach James, who is the most senior member of the team and is completing his fourth season, believes that his teammates are what will stick with him the most, when all is said and done.

“Both the guys’ and the girls’ teams have had a good bond over the four years,” James said. “I made a lot of friends [here].”

Thomson, the team’s starting libero, who is third on the Avs’ all-time dig leaders, is mainly focused on trying to ensure that the team’s year doesn’t end on their home court.

“It’s a little nerve-racking knowing this is our last weekend, [but] it’s been a good three years [for me here],” Thomson said. “Hopefully, we can pull out a couple of wins and make provincials, [so that it’s] not our last weekend [ever].”

As for setter Matt Lavery, who has only been with the team for two years but is also the only current member of the men’s squad from Cranbrook, he knows that it really will be the end of an era.

“After high school, my friends moved away, and went and did their thing at different universities, and I stayed in town,” Lavery said. “Being a part of the team really tied everything together, and made me [still] feel [part of] a group in Cranbrook.

“It’s a little bit emotional, [being] the last game as a part of the team.”

Despite entering the weekend on a 13-game losing streak — including the last seven without a single set win — and holding an 0-2 season-series record against UFV this season, the men are optimistic about a strong finish.

“I’d hate to see our season end [too] soon, especially since it’s our last season, and specifically against UFV,” Lavery said. “We’ve just got to go out and play how we [know we can] play. Our passing has been a little bit difficult the last couple of weekends, but I definitely believe in our team. We’re going to come out and give it our all.”

Thomson agreed, saying that they just had to keep things simple.

“As (head coach) Cisco [Farrero] has said, we’ve got to score more points than the opponents,” he said. “We’ve got to battle. UFV is a good team, [and] I have to give them a lot of credit. We’ll have to play the best game we’ve played.”

Heading into the weekend, the Avs have a 4-18 record and are tied with the Columbia Bible College Bearcats, who hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with a 3-1 advantage. UFV is currently one spot ahead of them, in fifth-place in the conference, with a 9-11 record.

In their two previous matches on the road against UFV, back in November, the COTR men took them to five-sets the first night and four the following afternoon. The top performers for the Cascades this season have been Nick Bruce, a fifth-year left side hitter, who is averaging 3.24 kills-per-set, and Ben Friesen, a third-year, averaging 2.68 kills and 2.13 digs.

For the Avs, Thomson has had an MVP-calibre season with 1.94 digs-per-set, and sophomore outside hitter Matt Cespedes has been a force with a team-leading 2.36 kills-per-set.

Even if the Avs win one of two matches, their postseason fate will not be sealed until after the following weekend when UFV face CBC in their final matches of the year.

The men kick off their weekend on Friday at 8 p.m., following the women’s match at 6 p.m., and then play again the following afternoon on Saturday at 3 p.m.

The 2018 PACWEST Provincial tournament will be held from February 22 to 24 at the UFV campus.

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