Capilano Blues reload for shot at volleyball gold

Revamped attack revolves around fifth-year all-star setter Simon Friesen

Fifth year players are rare in the college sports scene, and even rarer are fifth year players who play vital positions and have resumés that include national player of the year awards.

That, however, is just what the Capilano University men’s volleyball team has in Simon Friesen, a setter in his fifth and final season with the Blues.

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“We’re very fortunate to have someone like Simon running our offence night in, night out,” said head coach Dave Dooley, now in his second season with the Blues. “He’s just very stable, very consistent and makes excellent decisions.”

The one thing that isn’t on Friesen’s resumé, however, is a provincial gold medal and the accompanying trip to the national championships. That is something the Blues are hoping to change this year as Friesen takes his final lap around the league.

Blues volleyball
Setter Simon Friesen makes a pass while Capilano teammates scramble to help during a recent PacWest match. photo Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures

“Our goal is to win the championship this year,” said Dooley. “The fact that Simon is in his fifth year is definitely added motivation, but at the same time we know what we need to do and we’re hoping to go out there and do it.”

With his first full recruiting class since taking over the team, Dooley has reloaded the roster with powerful hitters and big blockers to give Friesen the weapons he needs to take the Blues over the top. One of the names on top of that list is Simon’s twin brother Ben Friesen, who came over to Capilano after spending four season as a PacWest rival with University of the Fraser Valley. Since arriving at Capilano, Ben has been a mainstay as one of Simon’s favourite targets and one of the team’s top left-side hitters. 

“It’s the cliché of twins, right – they have some kind of second sense with one another or something like that,” said Dooley. “I don’t know how true that is, but it does seem like they’re intuitively a little bit more aware of each other, especially with the setter-hitter component to that. They seem to always be in rhythm. … They’re both captains of the team, taking on leadership roles. It’s just awesome to see that they’re able to finish off their careers together.”

Blues volleyball
Ben Friesen blasts a hit during a recent match. photo Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures

Another newcomer playing a major role is outside hitter Rafael Hilario. The native of Brazil played for Humber College last season, winning the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association rookie of the year award. Hilario transferred to Capilano this season and has slotted in as another potent offensive weapon, leading the team in total kills and points.

“He’s come in from Brazil and obviously has a very high volleyball IQ and is a great player and a great person,” said Dooley.

The Blues are also all new in the middle, with four rookies – all listed at 6-5 or taller – getting in work at the net. The list includes another international player – Enis Besirevic of Australia – as well as James Fong from Vancouver’s Winston Churchill, Leonard Tesarik from Burnaby South, and Kyle Cook from Surrey’s Clayton Heights.

Third-year hitter Jacob Hopkins is one offensive weapon who is not a new Blue. He’s missed some time with a sprained ankle but is ready to go now, coming into the second semester as the team leader in kills per set.

“He’s a high-flying banger who is leading the way for us offensively,” said Dooley.

The team also has a North Shore duo in Markus Bratsberg, who has moved from hitter to libero in his second season with the Blues, and rookie libero/setter Adam Kartusch. Both players are from the Argyle Secondary volleyball program which has been resurrected in recent years by coach Shon Sim. Argyle is leading the way in a push to revive senior boys high school volleyball on the North Shore.

Blues volleyball
A point earned from hitter Rafael Hilario (No. 12) earns cheers from his Capilano teammates. photo Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures

“Huge shoutout to Shon Sim at Argyle Secondary there, he’s been working tirelessly to really start from zero and build something up,” said Dooley. “If you look at how Argyle has done over the years, they’re really trending upwards.”

The Blues have shown well so far, sitting second in the league with a 10-3 record, which has earned them a spot in the national top-10. Things will heat up now in the second semester as the PacWest teams battle for gold and the league’s sole berth in the national championships.

“Our league is probably the top league in Canada, and I would say that the top four to five teams in our conference all have a realistic shot at winning at the national championships,” said Dooley. “Being exposed to that high level of competition every weekend is massive in preparing us for nationals, so I think the winner out of B.C. is going to have a huge advantage going into nationals. And if we are that team, I think we’ve got a great shot at winning it all.”

The Blues will renew their quest this weekend with a pair of home matches against College of the Rockies. On Saturday the action will start at 6 p.m. with the women’s match followed by the men, while Sunday’s action will begin with the women’s match starting at 11 a.m. followed by the men.

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Last week Bratsberg earned a spot on Team Canada for the International University Sports Federation Beach Volleyball World University Championship tournament scheduled for June 23-27, 2020 in Malaga, Spain. Bratsberg and his partner Aleksandar Borisov won a national qualification tournament held at the Volleyball Canada Beach Training Centre in Toronto.

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