Douglas drives past Avalanche with dramatic comeback

Where injuries and ailments played too big a part of the first half of the season, the Douglas College Royals women's volleyball team is eager to show what they can do with a full lineup.

In the second week since relaunching the 2019-20 PacWest season, the New West-based squad demonstrated both the skill and resilience that has been the cement of the program for the past few years.

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Douglas defeated the College of the Rockies on back-to-back days last week, taking the opener with a strong start, then requiring a fiesty finish in rallying for the repeat victory.

"I thought the girls did a very good job and refused to give up," Royals head coach Jeff Ross said of their 3-2 win on Friday. "We showed a lot of resilience in battling back and responding to a tough situation."

After dropping the first two games 21-25, 25-27, the hosts had their backs to the wall and forced a fifth and deciding game with victories of 25-18 and 25-21, thanks to a 6-1 run to wrap up the fourth set. They completed the two-match sweep with a 15-9 decision to improve to 8-7, leapfrogging the University of the Fraser Valley for third place.

Outside hitter Emma Schill led the way with 18 kills and 29 digs, while libero Trisha He delivered 24 digs. Jacey Neid, with 15 kills, and Olivia Cesaretti, with eight kills and five blocks, also made major contributions.

The day before, the Royals took the lead on tightly contested 25-18 and 28-26 wins. The Avalanche took the third set, 27-29 in another extended game, before Douglas squeaked by with a 25-23 clincher.

Finishing with 21 kills and 12 digs was Schill, while Grace Warkentin counted 16 kills and five digs. He posted a game-high 21 digs, while Grace Mcgillivray chipped in eight kills.

The squad has been putting the pieces together after enduring a lot of bad luck during the first two months of the season. Losing players to concussion symptoms, mononucleosis, and shoulder and knee ailments tested the roster's depth. With a lineup that includes six members who helped pilot the team to another Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championship tournament, placing fourth, after scoring silver at the 2018 national championships, the leadership core was crucial to getting through the first half of the season.

"I don't think there was a week in the first half where our lineup was complete," noted Ross, in his fifth year behind the bench. "It's a credit to the players that we held our own and were competitive. ... The culture here is very solid."

For her play, Schill was named the PacWest's women's volleyball player of the week, following in teammate Samantha Dodds' footsteps. The middle blocker, who transferred to Douglas from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, was instrumental in the first week out of the Christmas break when Douglas earned a split with the Fraser Valley. She posted 15 kills, five blocks, five digs and three aces.

Douglas now turns its focus to Nanaimo where they'll take on the undefeated and No. 1-ranked Vancouver Island University Mariners this weekend. Ross said the aim for his 13th-ranked team will be to just keep putting their best game forward and continue getting sharper.

"We just focus on our side of the court," he said, noting the Royals have taken a set from the mighty Mariners this year. "We're still growing, still learning and just trying to get better at our all-around game."

With the Royals hosting next month's PacWest provincial championships, making the most of home court advantage, as well as all the CCAA experience, will be a big boost. That the players all play for each other is a major asset.

"At the end of the day we look to build on what we've done, to get better and play for each other. We're certainly trending in the right direction."

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