The Blues and Mariners set history while battling for PACWEST dominance
Justin Scott // Managing Editor
Although volleyball is inherently an exciting sport to watch, the Capilano University Blues men’s game against the Vancouver Island University (VIU) Mariners on Nov. 3 was more than that; it was record-breaking.
The game’s second set finished with a final score of 44-42 in favour of the Blues, the highest score ever recorded in the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s (CCAA) history. In fact, it requires some serious internet digging to find any volleyball set ever to score higher than that. For Blues head coach, Emmanuel Denguessi, not only was it the highest score he had ever seen, he had to think before he could name another match that compared. “The closest was France versus Australia in the world league two years ago,” he said after pondering the thought, “I think it ended 39-37 or something like that. But I haven’t seen a set going until 44.”
Even before the game’s first serve, both teams knew they were in for a tough fight. The Mariners entered the game with four wins and no losses, while the Blues had won their first six. “We knew it would be a battle of the titans,” said Dr. Abe Avender, Mariners head coach.
After the Mariners won the first set 26- 24, both teams were warmed up and the fateful second set began.
The set was back and forth with neither team ever breaking away from the other. “It was true men’s volleyball at a high level. It was serve side out, serve side out, serve side out,” Avender recalled. Both Denguessi and Avender spoke enthusiastically of the game’s calibre, describing how the intensity and quality of the play only picked up throughout the set.
Venturing past 25 isn’t uncommon in volleyball. Scoring past 30 is rare, but the Blues had already won a set against the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades 33-31 earlier in the year, so hitting the low 30’s was nothing new. Once the score kept going, the game became something special.
Avender still remembers the vigour of the gym as the score continued to climb. “Feeling that energy as we were getting into the high 30’s and low 40’s, it was like, ‘holy crap.’ It was wild.”
Eventually, however, the Blues won the set, bringing the record-breaking battle to an end. “Going to 44-42, that was something,” said Denguessi. Although the set was entertaining, the Blues coach looks back on it practically. While it was a memorable spectacle, the set ended up running the length of almost two standard sets, and inevitably led to fatigued players. “To be honest with you, for us, we wanted the game to finish.
We would have been happier to finish at 25 than going to 44,” he said. “But I think that it was just a confirmation of how resilient and mature the team has become.”
While both teams played extremely well, a few players stood out. Avender remembers the duo of the Blues’ team captain Simon Friesen and middle Zarley Zalusky vividly. Friesen is known throughout the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) for his impressive skill set and playmaking abilities, but Avender was surprised by Zalusky. “Their middle, Zarley, he was a beast,” he said. “We knew the guy could pound balls, so when you know that, and you still can’t stop him.”
Zalusky remembers the night clearly, and admitted he played well. “It seemed like everything was going right for me,” he said. “Every time I hit the ball it seemed like it was hitting the floor.”
Denguessi explained how the team’s middle is one of their strongest assets, as they free up the floor for their attacking left side. “When we’re best is when we’re passing well and we’re able to run the middle, because it takes a lot of the pressure off the outsides,” Zalusky added.
Although the Blues emphasized the team effort required for such success, Avender couldn’t forget how well Zalusky played that Friday. “He would hit a lot of balls towards five, so we said, ‘let’s take away position five,’ and the next six balls he cooks towards position one, so it’s like, okay, well the dude is just super good and having a really good night and we’re going to have to deal with it,” Avender recalled.
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The Blues went on to win the match three sets to two after just over two hours and 40 minutes of play, giving the Mariners their first loss of the season. The next night, however, the Mariners came back with a vengeance, defeating CapU’s team three sets to one. Neither team has lost since.
Win or lose, for all involved, the Nov. 3 matchup was unforgettable. “I played myself as a varsity athlete and have been around high-level volleyball for a really long time, but I’ve never seen a game like this,” explained Avender.
“I knew it would be tight, I think we’re the two best teams in the league, but I never thought I’d play in a game that went 44-42,” said Zalusky. “I’ve never seen or heard of a set going that long, and I think I’ll definitely remember that game as being one of the craziest, most fun games I’ve been a part of.”
The Blues and the Mariners will face off once again on Jan. 19 and 20 at CapU. “VIU will be the one where we’ll have to rise above in order to claim supremacy of the league,” Denguessi said. And even though the two teams are developing a serious rivalry, their coaches are having fun with it. Avender still remembers what Denguessi said to him as the two teams crossed sides after the set. “He was like, ‘this is why we coach, man, this is exactly why we coach’.”