Brent Mutis, CapU Sport Information & Compliance Officer
Entering his upper years of high school as a 5-foot-9 volleyball player, there was no guarantee of college athletics in Simon Friesen’s future.
But a continued dedication to the game at MEI and club volleyball – plus a handy seven-inch growth spurt – opened the door to a career at Capilano University, one that sees him play his last home game at the Centre for Sport and Wellness this Saturday.
It might not have turned out this way if not for former Blues head coach Emmanuel Denguessi who recruited Friesen to the Blues in 2015. At that time, all the other teams Friesen spoke to were offering possible third-string roles, if that. Denguessi, a former standout player at Columbia Bible College (CBC) in Abbotsford, believed there was potential for more.
“I’d seen him (Denguessi) play a couple of times when he was at CBC just down the road from my high school MEI in Abbotsford,” Friesen remembers. “He talked to me and said ‘I want you on my team; I just got this job coaching at Cap and I think that you’d be a really good fit and I want to be your coach.’
“I really didn’t know much about the school or the team as it stood, I kind of just wanted to play for Emmanuel.”
It’s proven to be a good choice. Friesen was named to the 2016 All-Rookie team and is a three-time PACWEST First-Team All-Star. In 2018, he earned the CCAA national player of the year award, just the eighth Blues athlete at the time to earn that distinction.
This year, he finds him playing alongside what is probably the most talented roster he’s seen in his time with the Blues and he’s been reunited with twin brother Ben who transferred to CapU for his fifth season from the University of the Fraser Valley. Together, they’ve helped the Blues to a 17-5 record and were major factors in a 12-game win streak earlier this season.
Capilano enters the final weekend of PACWEST play with the standings tight atop the conference. The chance to secure first place is still available so Friesen is more focused on team results than reflecting on the significance of his five-year career at CapU.
“I feel like I have not really thought about it a lot; I’m just kind of living in the moment, trying to get the last piece of the puzzle that I’ve been looking for,” says the 22-year-old, referring to a PACWEST title and a shot at a national championship.
Over his years on the court directing the Blues attack, he says it’s his volleyball IQ that’s developed the most. He’s been able to combine the influence of Denguessi and now Dave Dooley for the past two seasons to be a well-rounded player and leader.
“(Dave) approaches the game from a very different way than Emmanuel did,” says Friesen. “Emmanuel was a big emotionally fueled guy. He was always very aware of the team felt on the court and Dave is a lot more Moneyball style. I think that’s one of his favourite books.”
The dual approaches have shaped Friesen for the better.
“I think my knowledge of the entire game has generally improved,” says the arts and sciences student. “I think I run a smoother offence, a better, more diverse offence. And now, being on a team in my fifth year that has… a lot of good players, I feel like I have a lot more options when I’m setting.”
Hear him talk about his teammates this year, including outside hitters Rafael Hilario and Jacob Hopkins as well as emerging middle blockers Enis Besirevic and Leonard Tesarik, and the various threats they pose and it’s easy to see how plans for postseason glory are within reach.
“I think when we’re in system, we’re one of the most dangerous teams in the PACWEST,” said Friesen. “… a lot of our guys are putting the ball away at a really high efficiency rate so if we can continue to do that, the other team’s blockers will just be guessing at that point because we do have so many guys on the left side, the right side, the middle, the back row option, even myself sometimes.”
Despite what’s on his mind for the coming weekend and the ramifications for the playoffs, Friesen has allowed himself just a fleeting glance at what his career might mean to younger players.
“Right now, thinking back to all the other Cap alum that have done it in the past, guys like Ben Ricketts, Dan Caverly, a bunch of other guys, they all are still very much involved in the volleyball community and the Cap community.
“It’s good to have role models like that that you can look up to and still be like ‘They did it, I’m doing it.’ Hopefully I can inspire some other people to do it as well.”
Those just getting their careers underway would do well to draw on that inspiration. It's amazing what can happen in five years.