After winning Rookie of the Year, the hitter has his sights set on a championship
Justin Scott // Managing Editor
A dominant start to the year has the Capilano University Blues Men’s Volleyball team ecstatic about this season’s prospects. While the team’s triumphs have been due to a mixture of veteran leadership and skillful youth, it’s been impossible to miss the impact of Justin Yee’s play – last year’s Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) Rookie of the Year. Yet, while Yee has been one of the team’s leaders, he almost wasn’t able to start the season.
While training over the summer, Yee injured his ankle after stepping on a teammate’s foot. “During a pre-season practice, this guy here actually,” Yee said, motioning to Sameh Khodr, who was sitting beside Yee at one of the Sportsplex’s benches. “Just in a drill, I went up to block and it was kind of both of our faults, but I landed on his foot and I rolled it.”
“I guess I didn’t really take it too seriously at first,” he continued. “I should have gone to physio right away, I was walking on it which made it worse.” However, while his ankle still bothers him at times, Yee was rehabbed and ready to go in time for the Oct.13 season opener against the Douglas College Royals. Since that game, the Blues have only dropped one set en route to their 6-0 record. Although Yee has been a presence for the Blues this season, the injury wasn’t the only adjustment he’s had to make – he’s playing an almost entirely different position.
One of the Blues’ new weapons is rookie Jacob Hopkins, who happens to be a right outside hitter – Yee’s old position. Rather than rotate through and share the side, the team thought it would be to their advantage to have both Yee and Hopkins on the court at the same time, meaning Yee switched to left outside hitter. “I’m going from right side to left side,” Yee explained. “I’m passing and I’m hitting from the left side now. I think I’m transitioning okay, there’s definitely some stuff to improve on and I’m still coming back from an ankle injury,” he continued.
Yee’s move speaks to more than his play, it’s reflective of who he is as a teammate. While individual success is important for any athlete, Yee is clearly far more concerned about his team than stats and accolades. For example, while most would be elated – if not braggadocios – about receiving a Rookie of the Year award, once the initial excitement wore off, Yee wasn’t too concerned about the honour. “Last year when it happened it was kind of a big deal, like ‘Wow, this is actually real.’ It was kind of surreal,” he said. “But now when I look back on it, it’s just an award, it doesn’t really affect the team – I’d rather get something for the team than an individual award.”
Although Yee’s award last year didn’t directly affect the entirety of the team, it did help him realize what he can do as an individual to better those around him and be the best teammate he can be. “I took charge in tight pressure situations – my energy was a positive energy on the court. I just felt like a mature presence on the team,” he said.
With Yee’s outstanding rookie season playing a role in the team’s turnaround 2016-17 campaign, this year is looking like it could hold more than just individual accolades for the team. While the players set a goal at the beginning of the season to medal this year, their hot start has their original target looking like an undershoot. However, Yee is being careful to make sure that neither he nor his teammates get comfortable. “The season is going well, it’s off to a really good start,” he said. “But, at the same time we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves because, as nice as it is being six and 0, we haven’t really played any challenging teams.”
Keeping that in mind, Yee has been focusing on improving his game in anticipation of a long season. “I’m just trying to be a more consistent player mentally and physically,” he explained. “Just being there for players if they make a mistake, having a positive impact both offensively and defensively, having a consistent service, and just being able to put the ball away when my setter gives it to me.”
With things rolling for the team, and individuals bettering themselves, the season is looking good so far for the Blues. If they can keep this up, Yee believes the team should be able to achieve their goal of medalling while on their way to the national tournament.