Blues find building blocks in promising 2016-2017 season
It took a few years but it’s finally looking like the Capilano Blues men’s volleyball program is starting to turn the corner.
After winning the provincial gold as a fourth seed in the 2012-2013 season, the Blues went into a bit of a rebuilding phase, cycling through players and coaches and piling losses that placed them near the bottom of the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) in the past few years.
This time around, led by second-year head coach and former Capilano Blue, Emmanuel Denguessi, the Blues not only doubled their win total from last season, they also saw three players get recognized with year-end awards from the PACWEST.
Blues second-year setter and co-captain Simon Friesen was selected as one of the PACWEST First Team All-Stars, validating his play as among the conference’s premier offensive anchors. Two rookies on the roster also made their marks in conference play, with right side Justin Yee winning the PACWEST Rookie of the Year and getting selected to the PACWEST All-Rookie Team and libero Jonathan Lee also getting named to the All-Rookie Team.
Friesen’s selection builds off his impressive debut last season, where he made an immediate impact to the Blues volleyball program as a first-year setter, and saw his efforts get recognized with a selection to the All-Rookie Team. Although a greater magnitude of leadership was placed on the shoulders of Friesen and third-year co-captain John Dela Cruz, Friesen still managed to excel as one of the best at his position. For Friesen, he knew he could compete in the league, but he didn’t exactly expect to rapidly rise to the level of a First Team All-Star. “I thought that it was possible for me to get nominated, but I only had hopes for maybe a Second Team All Star,” he admitted.
While Friesen’s continued growth as one of the best players in the PACWEST is a major plus for the Blues, it’s the rapid rise of two rookies that’s really created a buzz of excitement for what the Blues could be two or three years from now.
Yee’s lightning-fast ascent to the upper echelon of this year’s rookie crop is more than just a testament to his talent and work ethic, it also speaks volumes about his willingness to sacrifice for the team. Having played the setter position for most of his volleyball days, the first-year student out of Moscrop Secondary School shifted to right side after joining Blues, “I would never have imagined the amount of success or recognition I was going to receive when the season was starting up,” he said. By the end of the season, Yee’s excellence was all over the box scores, finishing in the top 10 in four different categories: aces, digs, kills and total offence. “[Rookie of the Year] is very humbling, and I’m grateful to accept it,” he said. “This has opened my eyes in terms of my future in the league and is going to push me to work harder to stay successful.”
While Yee’s exploits above the net took the PACWEST by storm, another Blue was also making a name for himself, this time closer to the ground. Right off the bat, Jonathan Lee knew he could hang with the best players in the PACWEST. The 5’6 libero from David Thompson Secondary had a memorable performance in the season opener against the University of Fraser Valley Cascades, and even though the Blues fell, Lee’s confidence never wavered. “From there on, I kind of just had a feeling that I’d be doing really well this season,” he said. Lee, who suspects he had 20 or so digs in that single game, wound up finishing the season at the top of the leaderboard with 347 digs, nearly 70 more than the next player.
Considered by many as the heart and soul of the team, Lee quickly became one of the most exciting players to watch in the entire Blues varsity program. His knack for making spectacular diving saves became a nightly highlight and his effort on the court was effervescent. The hard work and sheer joy for the game that Lee played with were evident with the Blues, who completed several memorable comeback wins this past season. “We’re that team that never gives up until the game’s over,” he said. “We’re a really scrappy team and we like to piss off other teams.”
With a young core that’s already developing into one of the most dangerous teams in the PACWEST, the Blues look ready to take another step towards their championship aspirations. For Lee, if the team stays and matures together, in a few years, he doesn’t expect anything less than a provincial banner. “For sure,” he said. “Honestly, I think we could’ve done it this year, nerves just took over us in that first round and right after that game everyone instantly started to look forward to the next season.”
Campus Life Editor
Community Relations Manager
Arts and Culture Editor