Brent Mutis, CapU Sport Information & Compliance Officer
Given their PACWEST gold-medal win happened Feb. 22 and their next game isn't until March 12, it's easy to forget the most important part of the Capilano Blues men's volleyball team's season is still to come.
The Blues are headed to Fredericton, N.B. for the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) national championships March 11 to 14 which are being hosted by St. Thomas University.
Just this week, the Blues found out their opening-round opponent. The Durham College Lords out of Oshawa, Ont. will be on the other side of the net on Thursday, March 12 in an 8 p.m. start local time, 4 p.m. Pacific time.
Having almost three weeks off with the knowledge his team has to be at its best next week is a challenge for Blues head coach Dave Dooley but one he is approaching strategically.
"We're sort of treating this lengthy break like a mini season," said Dooley. "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 were 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."
Despite how well he played at the PACWEST tournament, tournament all-star Simon Friesen - the 2018 CCAA Player of the Year - has never been to a national championship tournament. Neither have any of his teammates. Fortunately, their head coach is pretty well versed here.
Dooley went to nationals on multiple occasions while serving as an assistant coach at Camosun College including 2015 when they won gold. That event was at Holland College in Prince Edward Island so Dooley has an idea about the competition and the best way to handle flight connections on the way there.
"It is a long travel day and obviously a four-hour time change," said Dooley. "We will prepare for the trip similarly to how we prepare for the road trip to Cranbrook (to play College of the Rockies). We are also going to try to acclimatize to the time change prior to departure with an early morning practice on Sunday."
This year's Blues team is a good blend of veterans like Friesen and his brother Ben, Graeme Hughes, Jacob Hopkins and talented younger players like Enis Besirevic, Markus Bratsberg and Leonard Tesarik.
But one of the most high-impact players in the PACWEST this season is second-year transfer Rafael Hilario who earned the MVP nod at the PACWEST tournament. And, as a transfer from Ontario's Humber College, he may have insight on some of the competition. Humber is in the field of eight and play the first game on March 12.
Right now, Dooley and the Blues are focused only on Durham College. They've seen some game film of the Lords and are starting to get an idea of how they want to approach the game.
"Durham looks strong; they have a fifth-year lefthanded setter that runs a very good offence (Liam Gray), and likes to get involved himself," said Dooley. "They have strong outside hitters as well as experienced and big middle attackers. We have all watched video and will look to comprise a gameplan in our team video sessions upcoming."
The Blues have never won a national championship and have not been to nationals since 2013 where they missed the podium. This year's crew and coaching staff are doing all they can to reach never-before-seen heights.