The Avs season came down to a nailbiter on Saturday night — a match that they weren’t even playing in.
Needing the University of Fraser Valley Cascades to beat the Columbia Bible College Bearcats in the final game of the regular season to hold onto their playoff spot, the College of the Rockies men were on the edge of their seats without any control of the situation.
UFV won the first two sets of the match, seemingly allowing a clear path for COTR. Then, the Bearcats clawed back and won the third, following it up with a convincing 25-12 fourth. Fortunately, the Cascades ended up having more might and won the final set 16-14.
“It was a barn burner, but UFV defeated CBC, so that puts us in the sixth spot going in,” said Avs head coach Cisco Farrero on Monday. “That’s the [great] thing about [the] playoffs, [if you get in] everyone has a shot.”
As the lowest seed in the six-team PACWEST Provincial Championship tournament, COTR drew just about as tough of an opponent as you could imagine.
With the top two teams getting a bye into the semifinals, the Avs face the third-place Camosun College Chargers this Thursday in a single-match elimination battle. Camosun are eight-time gold medal winners at the tournament, and are currently the three-time defending champions.
While they finished the season with a 13-11 record, significantly better than the Avs’ 5-19 record, the disparity would have been even greater had they not been forced to forfeit their first four matches due to an ineligible player.
Two of those matches occurred against COTR, so while their head-to-head record might officially be 2-2, Camosun actually won all four. If it had not been for the forfeits, the Avalanche most likely wouldn’t have made the playoffs.
According to Farrero, after all that’s happened this year, they have no choice but to embrace the underdog role heading into the quarter finals.
“I think that’s the only way to go about it,” Farrero said. “Camosun is significantly ahead of us in the standings. They’ve got a bit of pedigree, but at the same time, we have nothing to lose. We got in by the skin of our teeth, and now we can just go after it because there isn’t pressure on us.”
This season was Farrero’s first at the helm of the Avalanche, and while reaching the postseason was a goal of his, he wants his team to compete as hard as they can for a championship. Having lost all four matches to Camosun 3-0, however, he is realistic about the challenge they pose.
“They’re big, they’re good and they’re well-coached by Charles Parkinson, who’s been in the conference for a long time,” the coach said. “They really took it to us the first three [matches this year], and we [only] really played well against them the last time.
“If we can truly go out there and be fearless, anything can happen. They’re bigger than us, but we were able to get them quite uncomfortable the last time we played them, so we’ll have to definitely do the same thing.”
The Camosun squad ended their season with strong play and were winners of seven of their last eight matches. Their roster is stacked with talent.
In addition to last year’s provincial tournament MVP, left side hitter Matthew Bowers, the Chargers also have two of the top-three players in kill percentage in the conference. Left side Eduardo Bida put up a 4.13 kill-per-set average, while Jerome Cross finished the year with a 3.76 average.
They also feature last season’s COTR floor captain Spencer Janzen, a middle blocker who is now in his fourth PACWEST season.
On the other hand, down the stretch in their last 15 matches of the regular season, the Avs only won once, but it was a pressure-cooker fifth set comeback over UFV in their second to last game. Brazilian import Breno Fabbri was the program’s athlete of the week for his play that weekend, and had 10 kills, three assists, and three digs in their victory.
He is one of several players who will need to be at their best for COTR to have success against Camosun. As their leader in kills, sophomore Matt Cespedes (201 in 82 sets) will be relied upon heavily, as well as veteran libero Blake Thomson, who has a team-leading 162 digs in 85 sets.
Thomson is one of three departing senior players, along with Julio Lins and Zach James, who will all be wrapping up their careers at the provincial competition.
For the coach, his team’s keys to success all come down to playing simple, composed volleyball.
“[We have to receive well because] if we don’t, we’re going to be in trouble [since] they’re a lot bigger than us, and they’ll be able to shove the ball back down our throat,” Farrero explained. “But if we can pass, we’re in system on offence, and we can be smart when we are forced to be out of system, [if we] keep them uncomfortable, then the game will be tight after 20 and then, we’ll have a shot to take it at the end of the set.
“We’ve got to play our best to advance.”
The Avs quarter final match against Camosun is scheduled for Thursday at 3:00 p.m. PST and if they win, they will play in the semis at 3:00 p.m the next day. The 2018 PACWEST Provincial Championships are being held at the University of Fraser Valley in Abbotsford.
The COTR women’s squad is also entering the tournament as a sixth seed, opening their championship bid with a match against the host Cascades.