THE Capilano University men's volleyball team won the Pacwest provincial championships Saturday night, their first time earning gold since 2005, and rookie head coach Nathan Bennett couldn't be prouder.
"It's my first year here so it was kind of a nice little surprise," he said Monday, after returning from the tournament held in Cranbrook at College of the Rockies, Feb. 21-23.
The Blues were seeded fourth going into the tournament and in the final defeated the No. 2-seeded Vancouver Island University Mariners in four sets (26-24, 25-23, 12-25, 25-20).
"The guys peaked at the right time," said Bennett. "They battled hard and I think the point was that they were the hungrier team at the end of the day. I think they were the ones that wanted it the most."
The upset of the tournament came one day earlier when the Blues took down the No. 1-ranked Douglas College Royals in what was called a "thrilling" five-set match (23-25, 27-25, 17-25, 2826, 16-14). In the other semi-final, the Mariners defeated the No. 3-seeded Camosun College Chargers 3-1 (22-25, 29-27, 25-23, 25-18).
While Bennett is quick to turn the focus to his players who blew him away with their performance, his role in the team's turnaround is also worth noting and he was honoured last week by Pacwest, which named him men's coach of the year as part of the association's annual volleyball awards.
"As a new coach it's an honour that I did not expect at all because rookie coach, I'm still kind of learning my way through the position," he said. "But I think over the year I think everybody started to understand me and they bought in and that was the key. I think as far as being named coach of the year, like I told the guys, it's a team award, it just happens to have my name on it."
The last time the Blues won provincials was two years in a row, in the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 seasons. The wins earned them a spot at nationals and they won silver medals at both.
Going into this year's provincials, Bennett was focused on gold and he encouraged his players to do the same. The Blues came into the tournament a confident bunch after beating Douglas College, then the No. 1-ranked team in Canada, in the final game of the regular season Feb. 16.
"Every time you go into an event like (the Pacwest championships), our hopes are to win, our goal is to win," he said. "I knew we were going to come up to tough competition in the semifinal, but it was really good for us to get over the mental hurdle playing Douglas because we ended up beating them in the last game of the regular season. It just gave the guys that much more confidence facing them in the semi, knowing that we can beat them and we managed to pull that one out in the semi, which gave us an enormous amount of pride to just make nationals."
The Blues and the Mariners will compete at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Men's Volleyball National Championship March 7-9 at Ontario's Niagara College.
The Blues finished the season ranked 11th overall in the CCAA rankings and the Mariners' eighth.
Power hitter Dan Caverly was named the Pacwest tournament's MVP while middle blocker Spencer Kyte and right-side hitter Jarrett Massey picked up tournament all-star nods.
"I think Dan Caverly really came out of his shell and played a good weekend of volleyball," said Bennett, adding that several players came up big in the championship tournament. "I think (left-side hitter) Alex Harvalias, actually, is one of the most underrated volleyball players in the league and that guy had a very amazing weekend. Our setter Ben Ricketts has been our rock all season. He understands the game very well and he implemented the game plan and executed it very well. We had some other guys too, like Garret LaValley (who) came in and played about three different positions this year. Even in the last three matches, we had him starting in one position but by the end of the match he was playing a different position. Just all the guys together did a really good job."
Blues men who received season-long Pacwest volleyball awards last week include Caverly, named a Men's First Team All-Star, and Massey, named to the Men's All-Rookie Team.
The Capilano University women's volleyball team also competed in the Cranbrook championships and came in fourth, falling in the semis to No. 1ranked University of the Fraser Valley, which went on to win gold. The Blues then lost to Vancouver Island University in the bronze medal match. Left-side hitter Sarah Pettersson was named a tournament all-star.
Caverly's twin sister, Jacqueline, who plays for the Blues women's team also received a Pacwest volleyball award, named a Women's First Team All-Star for the 2012-2013 season.
As for the men, Bennett hopes the Blues' win and upcoming trip to nationals will make a positive impact on the game on the North Shore, bringing more players to the sport.
"I think it just starts to put volleyball back on the map," he said. "For me it's really important, it's nice to get all the accolades, but I really want to start building boys volleyball on the North Shore. I'm new here, I'm from Edmonton and I spent my last 12 years in Europe and when I moved here I was in complete shock when I found out that there was no boys volleyball in the high schools on the North Shore and I think that's a travesty and that is something that I think needs to be solved and I think winning this provincial title and becoming coach of the year and all this stuff, it just helps spur that sport on in the North Shore and I think that's an important thing to have."