Brent Mutis, CapU Sport Information & Compliance Officer
MEN'S VOLLEYBALL SEASON RECAP
Before the start of the 2019-20 season, Blues men's volleyball head coach Dave Dooley said there was just one thing missing from the resume of his star setter – and five-year Blues student-athlete – Simon Friesen: a provincial title and the chance for a national championship.
"… I've really tried to build a team around Simon that could win a provincial championship," said Dooley in an October season-preview interview. "He wants to go to a national championship and compete for a medal there. If we do that, this season will be a success for the whole team and it will send Simon off in the right way."
Safe to say the Blues did all that and more.
The Blues concluded the 2019-20 season March 15 with a straight-sets win over Humber College to earn the first-ever volleyball national championship in Capilano Blues history.
It was the culmination of a journey that at one point in the playoffs had the Blues just a couple of points away from elimination. Along the way, the team would get contributions from all over the roster, develop an unwavering belief – as well as an intimidating presence at the net that had been missing in previous seasons – and ultimately take home the most coveted prize.
What would turn out to be an historic season started on a high note with a straight-sets win Oct. 11 over Douglas College in front of a boisterous Blues crowd. After that, however, the Blues lost third-year outside hitter Jacob Hopkins to an ankle injury and lost three in a row including both ends of an Oct. 25-26 visit from Vancouver Island University (VIU).
Sitting at 1-3 entering November, the Blues hit the road for a pair of games at College of the Rockies in Cranbrook. Earning a pair of wins there to get their record back to the .500 mark, the Blues were on the start of what would become a 12-game winning streak. Brazilian international Rafael Hilario – a transfer from Humber College – established himself as a dominant offensive force, leading the Blues in kills in four of their first five wins on the streak.
The crucial development – and the biggest upgrade from the 2018-19 season – was the progress of first-year middle blockers Enis Besirevic, Leonard Tesarik and James Fong. Checking in at 6-foot-5, 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7 respectively, the trio gave the Blues the big bodies and long arms they'd been missing at the net. Besirevic led the Blues in blocks in six of the 12 games on the streak while Fong and Tesarik led once each in that time.
Teamed for the first time since high school with twin brother Ben – a transfer from University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) – Simon Friesen was his usual self, starting every game and turning in another all-star season. He'd go for 30+ assists seven times during the win streak, including a 46-assist effort in a five-set win at Camosun on Jan. 17. Both Friesens were a threat in the service game, each armed with a booming jump serve that kept opposing receivers uncomfortable.
The Blues finally lost on Jan. 18 at Camosun but promptly won three games to close out January. The slow start in October and a 2-2 mark in February ultimately cost the Blues a shot at the regular-season title and with an 18-6 record, they entered the PACWEST playoffs as a No. 3 seed.
CapU drew No. 6 UFV in the quarter-finals and dispatched the Cascades in straight sets getting 10 kills from Hopkins and two aces apiece from Tesarik, Hilario and both Friesens.
In the semifinals, the Blues faced No. 2-seed VIU. The afternoon match went the distance, with the teams swapping set wins to get to 2-2 and forcing a deciding fifth set to 15 points. Dramatic right to the finish, the Blues needed extra points to earn a 17-15 win in the final set and book their spot in the gold-medal game.
On the other side of the draw, the No. 4-seed Camosun College Chargers were also upending higher-ranked opponents including a five-set win in the semis over tournament host and No. 1-seed Douglas College. The Chargers-Blues title match will go down as one of the most memorable victories in Capilano University history.
The emotional semifinals win over VIU plus the big stage in the gold medal game proved unsettling early for the Blues as they were a step out of sync through the first two sets. A total of 25 service errors was evidence and after an extra-points loss in the opening set, CapU dropped the second set as well and looked well on the way to a season-ending loss.
The third set proved to be an epic tide-turner for the Blues as they again went to extra points and on multiple occasions faced a Chargers championship point. But the team's resilience and belief were their best weapons and they prevailed to force a fourth set and took it 25-21 setting the stage for a first-to-15 fifth set and a spot in the national championships.
Rolling now, the Blues took the first eight points of the fifth set to switch sides. They rode the wave to a stunning come-from-behind win and the PACWEST gold medal, the team's first since 2013.
With 18 days to prepare for the March 11 opener at nationals hosted by St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., the Blues enjoyed their win but got focused on an even bigger prize.
Head coach Dave Dooley did a good job maintaining a competitive atmosphere around the team despite the long wait between games. This was key as there were no fans allowed, and no crowd noise to feed off of, at St. Thomas University's volleyball venue for the nationals owing to COVID-19 concerns. Dooley's training approach paid off as the Blues brushed aside Durham College in straight-sets in the first game as Hilario chalked up 15 kills.
The semifinals turned into a five-set thriller against perennial powerhouse Red Deer College. After taking the opening set, the Blues dropped the next two and found themselves again facing elimination in a fourth set. But as before, Dooley and the Blues never allowed panic set in and they rallied with a 25-14 win to force a fifth set. In the deciding frame, points were tight the whole way before CapU secured a 15-13 set win and a spot in the finals.
Waiting there, and the only team standing between the Blues and a gold medal, was Humber College – Hilario's former school.
Nothing would stop the Blues in the gold-medal game as they scored a straight-sets win to claim the first national title in program history. Dooley's side was so dominant in the final, they prevented Humber from getting to 20 points in each set.
Ben Friesen, Hilario and Hopkins each reached double digits in kills while Simon Friesen served up a season-high six aces. It was Ben Friesen's overpowering serve, bouncing rigidly off the arms of a Humber receiver, that rebounded over the net and out of bounds to deliver the championship for the Blues.
The title was the 15th national championship in CapU Blues history and the first in the history of men's volleyball.
Simon Friesen was named a PACWEST First-Team All-Star for a fourth time and was a PACWEST Tournament All-Star. He was also named a CCAA All-Canadian for the second time.
Rafael Hilario was a PACWEST First-Team All-Star and the PACWEST Tournament MVP.
Ben Friesen was named a PACWEST Second-Team All-Star and was also a PACWEST Tournament All-Star.
Enis Besirevic earned a spot on the PACWEST All-Rookie Team and was named the PACWEST Rookie of the Year.
Simon Friesen finished his five-year Blues career on top with a CCAA national championship. The 6-foot-4 setter moved into first all-time in Blues history in sets played with 441, first all-time in aces with 130 and fourth in team history with 123 blocks.
Ben Friesen transferred to CapU for his final season and made it count, winning the national championship with his twin brother. He finished second on the team in kills this season with 204 and second in aces with 25.
"Before we left, one of our longtime gym staff members (Tom Smith) mentioned to us that (Capilano) had only been to the national final twice in school history and they lost both times. So, getting through yesterday and then getting today we just wanted to put one down in school history."
- Jacob Hopkins after winning the national championship
"We're sort of treating this lengthy break like a mini season. Last week we took things slow, allowing guys to recover both physically and emotionally, while still touching the ball and having some fun. This week we're pumping things up again and will be bringing in some local talent and CapU alumni to increase the level of competition in the gym as we prepare for nationals."
- head coach Dave Dooley on prepping for nationals
"We ended out up squeaking out that third (set) and the momentum tilted. Great job by our bench coming in and contributing and just getting us to that fifth where we knew we could win it. It was awesome."
- Dooley after a huge comeback win in the PACWEST final