THIS fall the Capilano Blues women's volleyball and basketball teams will each have huddles led by new faces for the first time in more than a decade.
Head coaches Wayne Desjardins and Paul Chiarenza are leaving the university's athletics program with a combined 24 years of experience and 14 provincial championship medals between them.
In his 13 seasons with the program Desjardins, a retired West Vancouver school district teacher and coach, earned three provincial coach of the year awards - including 2011-12 - and piled up winning season after winning season. His run peaked in 2007 when Capilano hosted the national championship tournament and the Blues, seeded sixth, battled all the way to the final to claim silver.
"Hosting nationals was one very special moment," Desjardins told the North Shore News.
"I've been to several national championships and ours was so exciting. The fever that was going on in the gym was just tremendous . . . our fans were fantastic, it was just an electric situation in the gym."
While that was one special moment, his time at Capilano was filled with many other wonderful experiences and encounters, said Desjardins.
"I've developed some very good friendships with players that have played at Capilano, he said. "I get calls and emails from across Canada asking for advice and just seeing how (wife) Lynne and I and my family are doing."
Capilano athletics and recreation manager Joe Iacobellis said Desjardins not only brought an enormous amount of stability to the program, producing winning teams every year and recruiting high calibre talents, but he also formed very strong bonds with his players.
"He's not only a coach, he's a mentor as well," Iacobellis said. "He's always been concerned with the welfare of the individual as a whole person, not only as a player. Especially I think for female athletes that's extremely important."
Desjardins has always been keen on details, right down to the sparkliness of the uniforms.
"My first year we went on the road and I brought the uniforms back - they were white uniforms - and they ended up getting washed and of course Capilano, like any institution, has the industrial strength washers and dryers. Well, they came out a bit grey. I said, 'Oh God, I can't have this.' From that point on, I always brought my uniforms home after matches and 90 per cent of the time Lynne would wash them, hang them up. . . . I don't think she'll miss that."
Starting next year the Capilano volleyball uniforms will lose that touch of home.
"For the entire 13 years it was handwashed uniforms for our players," said Desjardins with a laugh. "They were in perfect condition except occasionally the cat Nutmeg would get into them and there would be a few cat hairs on them."
Desjardins is going out on a high note, finishing third at the 2012 provincial championships and topping the year off with a Pacwest coach of the year award.
On the basketball court Chiarenza - who is leaving Capilano due to a conflict with his teaching and coaching duties at Southridge School in South Surrey - is also going out on a high, his 2012 Pacwest bronze medal complementing the provincial gold the team won last season when they made it to the national championships. It wasn't always so. Chiarenza said the program was in a state of limbo when he took over 11 years ago as a young coach still in his 20s. He was actually the third choice candidate but the top-two choices didn't pan out.
"I didn't know anything about anything, I just sort of jumped in and then that was a great motivator," he said about his humble beginnings with the program. "I don't think I was as polished from a strategic point as I am now but it was baptism by fire. We had some success our second year with some great kids and we've just built off of that ever since."
After a rough first year the Blues went on to make the playoffs in each of the next 10 seasons, medaling in five of them.
"It was a win-win situation when we hired Paul because he was a young coach so I think the position offered him an opportunity to develop, which he did," said Iacobellis. "And then for us it provided an opportunity of longevity and consistency in the program and stability in the program. Having him here for a dozen years has been huge, especially the last six years where it's been extremely stable - going to the nationals twice, winning a provincial championship last year. It's unfortunate that he's leaving because, especially the last four or five years, he's recruited some exceptional players."
His tenure culminated with last year's provincial championship win.
"To finally get over that hump and win that championship, I think that was probably the most memorable (moment)," said Chiarenza.
The coach was hoping to stay with Capilano while also teaching and coaching in Surrey but he understands why both employers are looking for his full attention. Though his day job is in Surrey, Chiarenza actually lives in North Vancouver - just a few blocks from Capilano - and said it will be an odd feeling next fall when the Blues start up their season without him.
"When I officially resigned I started to type a Facebook status that was sort of a thank you from me to everyone who had played for me and it turned into this four page thing where I started to list all the great moments and great memories and all the significant teams," he said. "I grew so much as a person, as a coach. It was such a wonderful environment, I don't know how I'm going to rationalize not going there at the beginning of next year. It already seems weird going in to run open gyms knowing that this won't be my team next year. I'm sure there will be some separation anxiety, but I wouldn't trade those years for anything."
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