COTR Avalanche women's development accelerated in tough 2017-18 season

COTR Avalanche women’s development accelerated in tough 2017-18 season

Following first-round exit at PACWEST Championship, coach John Swanson reflects on latest campaign

The Avs 2017-18 season certainly didn’t go the way you would draw it up, but the team could be better off for it moving forward.

Last weekend, the College of the Rockies women’s volleyball team lost in four sets in the quarterfinals at the PACWEST Provincial Championships to the host University of Fraser Valley Cascades, after a year marred by significant injuries to key players.

The team’s most senior member, Alexa Koshman, missed the majority of the first semester with injuries and then did not play at the provincial tournament due to educational commitments. While it made for a challenging road, according to Avs head coach John Swanson, there were plenty of silver linings.

“We knew that we had recruited nine first-year players [which is] very unusual, [but] we did not expect them to play as much as our group did,” Swanson said. “Because of our injuries, [we had] to play [so] many rookies, [but] they learned a lot [and] progressed very well, [which] will help us going forward for sure.”

Although COTR had a completely healthy roster at the start of the season, and swept their opening weekend in an incredible tour de force performance by Koshman over the Camosun Chargers, the year immediately became a grind the next weekend.

In addition to Koshman’s struggles, second-year middle blocker Danielle Warner sustained a major injury at the end of 2017, power hitter Megan Beckett missed some time and setter Janine Harach was also forced out of commission during the second semester.

COTR wasn’t able to win back-to-back matches after their first pair and finished with a 7-17 record, which included an eight-game losing streak from November 16 to December 19. Nevertheless, the team never went down without a fight and made the playoffs as the sixth and final seed.

“All year, if somebody went down, the next person was there to step in and play and compete at the highest level,” Swanson said. “A lot of our season was [made more difficult by] injuries, but [that] did allow some other players to get some playing time and grow as athletes and hopefully next year make that step quicker.

“Usually [players] aren’t ready to go until their third year, we’ve skipped that step [and they should] be ready to go, right in their second year, which will be great.”

Playing with a very young starting lineup at the provincial tournament, the Avs managed to come out and steal the first set 25-18 before UFV adjusted.

“I was really excited [after] that first set, because we changed our game plan from how we played [UFV] the week before and I thought that the ladies executed it to perfection,” Swanson said. “We blocked brilliantly, attacked really well [and] UFV missed quite a few serves and made some hitting errors [too], so it was kind of a perfect storm for us.”

While the Cascades took the next three sets (25-22, 25-15, 25-21) to win the match in front of their home crowd and ultimately captured a bronze medal, Swanson was proud of what he saw from his team.

“Other than [in] the third set, where we generally didn’t serve well, we were very competitive,” the coach said. “I was proud that they never quit, never got down and just kept competing.”

Fourth-year right side hitter Mikaela Pushor was named the player of the game for the Avs after a seven kill performance. Rookie power hitter Taylor Whittall, meanwhile, had eight kills and third-year power Megan Beckett had six.

With the potential of a lot of returning sophomores and a few veterans for 2018-19, Swanson believes that the future looks very bright for the Avs.

“If we can retain our core group and add in a couple of extra rookies, I think we’ll have a very good team next year,” he said. “I’m pretty optimistic for next season.”

Standout possible returnees for COTR include Pushor and Beckett, who led the team in kills with 245 in 83 sets, as well as libero Megan Clark who had 178 digs in 56 sets, the eight most in the conference.

Whittall also had a solid first year, with 150 digs in 56 sets as an outside hitter, and mid-season addition Abi Horch led the Avs in blocks per set with a 0.63 average.

While the team isn’t done recruiting for next season yet, they already have commitments from two local athletes. In November, Mount Baker Secondary left-side hitters Katie Anderson and Sam Lautrup signed letters of intent to join the Avs next season.

They will be joining former Mount Baker teammates Brooke Lightburn, Morgan Charlton and Janine Harach, to form a very solid hometown bunch.

“The nice thing as a coach is that I’ve worked with [these Mount Baker players] when I coached them for their high school season,” Swanson said. “So, with Katie and Sam, I know them and what to expect and they’ll be great additions to the team.”

For now, Swanson said that the team is being given time to rest and focus on their school work. While they will play some volleyball to close out the year, the focus from now until the summer is on their workouts off the court.

“Our biggest thing is [that] in a month or so, [we’ll be] really focusing on a weight training program that they’ll continue into the summer, just to have them be as strong as possible physically,” the coach said. “We have to make sure they keep physically working out, because they’re still younger individuals. But mentally, they’ve been through [a lot this season] so that will be very helpful for our program moving forward.”

The Avs 2018-19 preseason should begin in early September with the regular season starting up again in late October.

Cranbrook Townsman

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