It probably didn’t even need to be said, but John Swanson took the time to do it anyway.
In a pre-game presentation in front of a packed crowd at the College of the Rockies gymnasium on Friday night, the Avalanche women’s volleyball team coach had a few words to honour their only departing senior player.
“Tonight is all about Alexa [Koshman],” Swanson said as he instructed her fellow starters to leave her to stand alone on the gym’s baseline.
Preparing to face UFV in their final weekend of the regular season, Koshman was saying goodbye to the program after four years of being one of the school’s premiere athletes.
Speaking to her character, work ethic and listing off a slew of career achievements (including having the most digs in the history of the program and the second most sets played), Swanson made a tremendous case for the Avs’ star player.
“In my opinion, Alexa Koshman will go down in history as the best all-around female volleyball player in COTR history,” Swanson said to a rousing ovation.
And then, she proved it.
Feeding off the energy of the crowd and her teammates, Koshman delivered well beyond what could be gleaned from a speech.
Putting up 19 kills and eight digs — leading the Avs in both categories — she was a force on the court and helped the team win the first set 25-20 and the second 25-13.
While the visiting Cascades managed to extend the night with a 25-21 third set victory, Koshman and COTR clamped down in the fourth for a 25-23 win.
“She was phenomenal in all parts. She attacked really well, passed very, very well, [and] served very well,” Swanson said of Koshman’s performance. “[And then] the intangibles of her being like a coach on the floor, talking and saying where the hitters are going [was unbelievable].She’s just been brilliant for four years and this was just a small sample of how she always plays.”
According to the coach, the fire that the entire team brought to the court that night was astounding.
“We were just flying the first two sets,” Swanson said. “The energy [we had] was probably as high as I’ve seen it in a long time in support of Alexa’s last weekend.”
Joining in on Koshman’s party with a strong performance of her own was Avs power hitter Megan Beckett, who had 11 kills and seven digs. Katie Friesen also had a solid outing at setter, while the entire team blocked well.
In the season closer the next afternoon, however, the COTR squad wasn’t quite as sharp. Potentially suffering a minor emotional hangover, the Avs lost in straight sets (21-25, 15-25, 23-25).
“UFV played much better [on Saturday],” Swanson said. “They were hitting [the ball] off our hands consistently, and they had a little more jump. We [weren’t able] to stop their attack, [and] I think that was the biggest difference.”
Beckett led the team in kills on Saturday with 11, and tied with Pushor and Koshman for the lead in digs with six.
According to Swanson, the final weekend was a good learning lesson for the group heading into the Provincial tournament in two weeks. While the Avs clinched the sixth and final playoff spot prior to the weekend, they still have a week to find out who they’ll play in the opening round.
“I do think [our] players are improving, [and] we’re challenging the top teams more and more,” the coach said. “Our big thing now, is just being able to sustain that level of high play throughout an entire match, [and] over two days.”
At the PACWEST provincial tournament, which is being hosted at the University of Fraser Valley in Abbotsford from February 22 to 24, the Avs could end up playing either the Cascades or the Capilano University Blues.
As both teams have a pair of final matches before determining their final position, COTR will only be able to work on their own game in the meantime.
“We’ll [be] working on some details,” Swanson said of his group’s preparation. “We have some things offensively, that we have to work on. Then with defence, we have to make a couple changes, that we did [this weekend] on the fly.
“As other teams see us on video and they see some [of our] weaknesses, we’ll have to counter that, and adjust ourselves. It’s a simple game [though]; it always comes down to serving and passing. If you can serve and pass, you’re going to be competitive.”
Koshman will not be joining the team at the postseason tournament, as she will be in the midst of her practicum for the Education program, but was hopeful prior to the weekend that she would inspire her teammates in her final matches.
As the only remaining player from COTR’s historic 2015-16 provincial championship squad, she knows better than anyone that anything can happen in the playoffs.
“I’ve been through it, going in as a sixth seed, so [I just need to] reinforce in the girls that, honestly, standings is just a number,” she told the Townsman. “If they give it everything they have, we’re neck in neck with anyone.”
The PACWEST volleyball season ends this coming weekend, with the provincial tournament taking place soon after.