Blues set sights firmly on provincial gold medal

Men’s volleyball team hope to win the PACWEST and secure a berth in the national tournament

Justin Scott // Managing Editor

With the regular season now in the books, the Capilano University Blues men’s volleyball team now enter the most exciting and important part of the year – the playoffs.

From Feb. 22 to 24 the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST)’s top teams will battle each other for a claim to provincial supremacy and a berth into the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) national tournament.

After clinching the second seed during the regular season, the Blues received a bye round in the quarter finals, meaning they are just two games away from provincial gold. “My expectation is to encounter Camosun [Chargers] in the semi-final and then VIU [Mariners],” said head coach Emmanuel Denguessi

Though matchups are ultimately dependant on the results of the quarter finals, a duel with the Chargers and the Mariners are increasingly more likely. The Chargers were riding a six-game win streak, including two wins against the Blues two weekends ago.

Dominant throughout the season, the Blues looked as if they were about to share top-seed honours with the Mariners – until they dropped a pair of games to the Chargers. “The energy wasn’t there,” Denguessi said. The Blues hadn’t played the Chargers since winter break, and the Victoria school have since added new players who brought height to their squad. No matter, the Blues believe the Chargers is certainly beatable, they just need to re-focus. “I don’t think it’s our decision making, I think it’s just putting everything that we’ve learned together,” said team captain Simon Friesen.

The third-year all-star setter is especially excited for the playoffs, as it’s clear that he still has a bad taste in his mouth from last year’s tournament. “It sucked,” Friesen said. Although the team was talented last year, they entered playoffs ranked sixth, meaning they started their tournament in the quarter finals. It was there that they lost to the Chargers three sets to none and saw their season end.

Photo c/o Vancouver Sports Pictures

This year however, is already different. With a successful – at times record breaking – season under their belts, this year’s Blues are a clear contender. “If we follow what the coaches say about game plan, we’re going to beat any team we face,” said third year outside hitter Sameh Khodr. And as of now, that game plan is get back to basics and play as a team. “To beat Camosun, we will need to be very effective in our serve and in first contact,” said Denguessi. “Emmanuel wants us to go back to the basics and do what we do well,” Friesen added. “We’re a very good defensive team, we’re a very scrappy team and we’re a really good serve-receive team and we are a really good serving team. So, if we can pass the ball and dig the ball, and get some sort of offense out of that, I think we’re going to do well.” The Blues embraced this mindset and got back on track this weekend with a pair of wins against the Douglas College Royals, including a 43-41 third set win on Friday, Feb. 16.

With the brackets now set, there are just a few days until the tournament begins. Because of their bye however, the Blues won’t be playing on the tournament’s first day. “Every team is playing at the top of their game, which Camosun is right now,” Friesen admitted. “But, if we can put out our top game then that’s going to be great volleyball. I think we can play, I think we can beat them, but it’s going to be a really good game to start everything off,” he continued.

Between now and the 3 p.m. game time on Friday, the Blues have nothing to do but practice and prep, which as of last week was going well for the team. Along with practicing their plays, Denguessi plans on preparing the team mentally as well for the high-pressure situation. “The message is – they need to appreciate the moment, they need to see the value in the situation they’ll be in,” he said. “It’s a playoff game, which means you need to be at your best in each game because there is no game to readjust. It’s either you win and more on or you win and play in the bronze medal game in our case.” The coach also plans on allowing his team’s leaders to embrace their roles and guide their teammates.

“I would like my leaders, Simon and Jonathan [Lee], to be able to kind of entertain a second level of a mental game,” he said. “To always be there and remind their teammates of the task at hand. So, remind them to be focused when we need to be focused, to be relaxed when we need to be relaxed, to celebrate when we achieve something and to regroup when we are in difficulty.”

Having said all that, none of this will matter if the team can’t win on Friday. Although they’ll still be playing for bronze if they lose, for the men, this season is gold or bust. “Playing with this group, I always knew that our goal is more than provincials, our goal is nationals,” said Khodr. This task was made even harder for the Blues, and most of the PACWEST, this year when it was announced that Camosun would be hosting the CCAA national tournament. Because of this, the Chargers get an automatic bye into nationals, leaving only one other birth for the PACWEST, which usually gets two. “Whoever we’re going to face, we have a mindset of a gold medal, so we’re going to destroy this team and go to the final,” Khodr continued.

“I’ve been looking forward to a final for a long time. I don’t want to guess, I don’t want to assume, I don’t want to plan past the next game, but anyone in the final and us is what I’m going for,” Friesen said with confidence. It’s clear that the team believes that this is their year and aside from their off weekend against the Chargers, it’s looked like theirs as well. All they need to do now is win two more games – something the team and coach believe to be in their sights. “How do I envision the playoffs going? Capilano wins in the semi-final, Capilano wins in the final and we have practice the next morning,” Denguessi said, smiling from ear to ear. Hopefully he’ll have that same smile, along with the players on Saturday, with a gold medal around their necks.

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