Brent Mutis, CapU Sport Information & Compliance Officer
In what might be the biggest comeback in a PACWEST title game in school history, the Capilano Blues men's volleyball team erased a seemingly insurmountable deficit Saturday night against the Camosun College Chargers to claim gold and book a spot in the national championships.
Tournament MVP Rafael Hilario won a joust at the net for the clinching point. As the ball fell to the floor, just out of reach of the Chargers defence, the Blues bench erupted and as players stormed the court, the wave of CapU supporters in the crowd were whipped into a frenzy.
"To lose that heartbreaker first set and then lose the second set, and face two or three match points in the third set (was a test)," said Blues head coach Dave Dooley. "To keep the belief was the message, keep the trust in each other and at the end of the day, they did that."
Camosun capitalized early on a Blues squad that seemed out of sync in the first two sets. CapU had an opening-set win within its grasp but failed to finish it off despite being up 24-23. The Chargers earned the next three points to claim the set.
The jitters continued to plague CapU in the second set and their timing on attacks appeared off. The performance from the service line was particularly problematic; their 25 service errors were more than double any number they posted prior in the tournament.
But even down two sets to none, the Blues didn't fold. They began to find their form just in time in the third set and got valuable contributions off the bench at a moment when there was no room for mistakes. The third set went several extra points and CapU managed to win it 31-29 to maintain a pulse.
"Despite our pregame chats about (being too hyped up), it was clear to see we were just trying to do too much, especially from the service line," said Dooley. "We didn’t really execute and we didn’t really maintain our emotions as well as I was hoping we would but we never lost that belief which is pretty amazing."
Using the momentum they'd built and again getting production off the bench from players like Dimitrije Djordjevic, who hadn't played in the PACWEST tournament to that point as he nursed an injury, and James Fong who racked up three solo blocks, the Blues took the fourth set 25-21 sending it to a winner-takes-all fifth set. Kyle Cook provided spot duty in the middle as Leonard Tesarik was sidelined briefly.
CapU was the first to eight in the race to 15 in the fifth set and kept rolling after switching to the other side of the net. It was a rollercoaster ride but having come out on top, the experience should serve the team well when they get to nationals.
"We ended out up squeaking out that third (set) and the momentum tilted," said Dooley. "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."
Simon Friesen wound up with 53 assists on the night, more than in any match in the regular season. Hilario hit .329 on 27 kills, posting 32 points of offence. Ben Friesen had 16 kills, two aces and two solo blocks. Enis Besirevic had four solo blocks.
After the game, both Friesens were named to the tournament all-star team.
The win gives the Blues their first PACWEST men's volleyball crown since 2013.
The national championships are March 11 to 14 at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B.