CapU men's volleyball wins PACWEST hardware

Third-year setter Simon Friesen was named the 2017-18 PACWEST Player of the Year. Photo Paul Yates / Vancouver Sports Pictures
Third-year setter Simon Friesen was named the 2017-18 PACWEST Player of the Year. Photo Paul Yates / Vancouver Sports Pictures

CJ Pentland, CapU Sports Information Director

Four members of the Capilano University Blues men’s volleyball team were honoured among the conference’s best on Wednesday afternoon, with third-year setter Simon Friesen winning PACWEST Player of the Year and head coach Emmanuel Denguessi being named Coach of the Year.

A First Team All-Star last season and a member of the PACWEST All-Rookie team in 2015-16, Friesen elevated his game to another level in 2017-18 and established himself as the top setter and all-around player in the conference. Denguessi credits Friesen for Capilano’s successful 19-5 season thanks to his masterful handling of the team’s offensive play, as he kept the defence guessing and set the attackers up for consistent success. He averaged 10.14 assists per set this season, and also recorded 65 kills on a 0.419 hitting percentage thanks to his ability to surprise the defence with a setter dump. 

CapU Blues head coach Emmanuel Denguessi

Friesen also possesses an excellent defensive game, averaging 1.77 digs per set and ranking 15th in the PACWEST in blocks with 0.43 per set. The Abbotsford native rounds out his game with a strong serve, as his 28 total aces were seventh-most in the league.

“The extent of Simon’s volleyball skills as setter are seen in our lack of success to recruit players in the setter position,” said Denguessi. “All potential recruits who have ambition in the position always asked me whether or not Simon is coming back. When I answer with the affirmative, I barely hear back from them.

“It is sad because I think there are many things that setters can learn from Simon. First, the drive to win: Simon has a winner’s mindset. Second, leadership: Simon has established himself as the face of the Capilano Blues men’s volleyball program. He is at the service of his teammates, and he serves as a communication bridge between the coaches and athletes. Third, he is a student of the game: I have seen him doing things that Bruno Rezende (the best setter in the world) does. It comforts me to realize that the other coaches in our conference saw it and granted him the Player of the Year award, which is most often awarded to outside hitters.”

Friesen is the second Capilano men’s volleyball player to be named PACWEST Player of the Year, joining Dan Lewis who won it in 2005-06. He will be the conference’s nominee for CCAA Player of the Year. 

“When I hired Emmanuel I knew the past Athletic Director had struggled finding the right coach to build our men’s volleyball program,” said Milt Williams, CapU Manager of Athletics & Recreation. “After we won the 2012-13 Provincial championship, the department was faced with the challenge of not only finding the right coach, but rebuilding a culture of pride and academic and athletic excellence into the team. Emmanuel and I set out on a three-year game plan to do so; however, we both know we still have a ways to go yet to reach both our goals. Emmanuel has performed admirably and is well-deserving of the award for the 2017-18 season, and we are very proud of the men’s volleyball program.”Denguessi was named PACWEST Coach of the Year in his third season at the helm of the Blues. CapU recorded an 18-point improvement from last season, as they improved from 10-14 and sixth place in 2016-17 to 19-5 and second place this year. The Blues were ranked in the CCAA Top 10 all season and reached as high as #5, and the 19 wins also tied a team record for most wins in season – equaling the mark set by the 2004-05 team who went 19-1.

A former setter for the Cameroonian National Team who also played in the CCAA – winning a National Title with Columbia Bible College in 2011 and being named a Conference All-Star and CCAA National Scholar – Denguessi provides considerable insight into how to be a successful student-athlete. He puts as much emphasis on academics as he does athletics, and his team responded with a strong cumulative team GPA, with eight student-athletes above 3.0 and three with a 4.0 or better. He also gives considerable focus to the mental side of the game, as he prepares a concrete plan ahead of each game, and trusts the team captains to then set the tone on the court. 

Second-year middle Zarley Zalusky. Photo Paul Yates / Vancouver Sports Pictures

“It is my faith in God, the support of my family, the empowerment from Athletic Director Milt Williams and the entire department staff, the collaboration of my coaches, Alex, Taylor, John  and the great work of my student-athletes – because it is a student-athlete game – that made it happen,” said Denguessi.

Denguessi is the third Blues coach to win PACWEST Coach of the Year, and first since Nathan Bennett won in 2012-13. He will be the PACWEST’s nominee for the CCAA Coach of the Year.

Second-year middle Zarley Zalusky was named a Conference First Team All-Star after a breakthrough sophomore campaign. The Coquitlam native developed into arguably the best middle in the PACWEST, as his athleticism had an impact in all facets of the game. On offence, Zalusky was 10th in Total Offence with an average of 3.10 points per set, was 3rd in aces with 0.47/set, and had an efficient 0.368 hitting percentage. At the net on defence, he was fourth in blocks with an average of 0.64 per frame. 

“Zarley, in my opinion, will be one of the best in the nation if he remains dedicated to the sport,” said Denguessi. “Cap is a great team when Zarley plays average; at his best, Capilano becomes a dominant team. Zarley's offensive contributions in addition to his effective serves has allowed the league to re-define the roll of a middle player. With his teammate Mattias Wels-Lopez, they have inspired respect from their opponents – making teams build their strategies around them.”

First-year outside hitter Jacob Hopkins. Photo Paul Yates / Vancouver Sports Pictures

Landing a spot on the All-Rookie team was outside hitter Jacob Hopkins. Denguessi called Hopkins the “revelation of the year” for the men’s volleyball team, as he used his athleticism to become one of the top scorers in the league. He finished the season 11th in the PACWEST in kills per set with 2.57 and total offence with 3.05 points, and was named both PACWEST and CCAA Athlete of the Week in week two of the regular season.

“He has solidified the right side of our game. He put us in a very good position at the beginning of the season with his efficiency in kills and his smart serving skills. Jacob is someone I can count on to make a difference at any moment. I have the certitude that he will be dominant force in the league in the years to come.

“I also want to say that we have had this success mainly as a result of a large team effort: Mattias Wels-Lopez, Justin Yee, Jonathan Lee, and Sameh Khodr could have also been members of the All-Star team in their respective categories. The efforts of Cameron Fay, Kevin Chiu, TheAnh Pham, Max Clarke, Christopher Johnston, Justin Mo, Trevor Deshane, and Alex McLean have also contributed to the success of the team this year.”

The postseason starts for CapU at 3:00pm on Friday, February 24, as their second place finish earned the Blues a bye into the semifinals of the PACWEST Championships hosted by the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford. They’ll face the winner of the #3 Camosun College and #6 College of the Rockies quarterfinal match-up, which is Thursday at 3:00pm.

Capilano will need to win gold at the Championships to earn a berth at the CCAA Nationals, as Camosun has already claimed one of the PACWEST’s two berths as the host institution. The Blues have won three Provincial golds since the program’s inception in 1998-99, having last won in 2012-13.