Braedon Friesen was still able to take steps forward in his volleyball career in a year where university sports were almost entirely wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Swift Current product spent the past season in Gatineau, Quebec with Volleyball Canada’s National Excellence Program.
“It was great, especially during these times. Not many people are able to train, so it was awesome to get the opportunity to go out there and train this year and become better while many people weren’t able to train. I was really grateful for that,” said Friesen. “It was just a great training environment. There was some really good guys there. It was a great couple months out there. I definitely think I improved a lot and it was a great time.”
Friesen, 21, spent the previous two seasons with the University of Alberta Golden Bears, but with U Sports activities cancelled for the school year, Friesen was facing a lost year in his development until he was contacted by NEP coach Dan Lewis.
“I was actually at the lake this summer and it was a couple weeks before I would have been going back to Edmonton. I got a call from Dan Lewis and I actually got an email saying that I got invited out there. It was just kind of last second that I decided to go out there.”
The program included 19 male athletes training at the Centre Sportif de Gatineau, Quebec.
“It was really high level competition. There was some of the top guys from university and then there was also some guys that had been playing pro and were looking for contracts.”
Friesen noted that Daniel Jansen Van Doorn, a 2016 Olympian, was in Gatineau training in the second semester. “It was great to have guys like that in the gym, guys with plenty of experience and they can pass some of that on to you. That leadership was just great to have in the gym. It was a great environment.”
“On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we would train twice a day. The morning session would be a workout and then focus on more skill work, so not so much jumping, but passing and technical stuff. In the afternoon we would practice again and it would be more game play and execution type drills where we’re playing volleyball.”
Friesen, like many of the players there, were juggling their training as well as taking online classes for university. He is working towards a Bachelor of Sports and Recreation.
Friesen had a breakout sophomore campaign in 2019-20 when he finished second on the Golden Bears with 179 kills in 64 sets played.
He was also second on the team with 19 service aces. He also contributed 59 digs and 28 blocks.
“It was a good year. At the start of the year I was obviously just coming back from my ankle injury, so I had a couple minor setbacks there. Once I was fully healthy I was able to take that starting spot and had a pretty good second year at U of A.”
Alberta placed second in Canada West in 2019-20 with an 18-4 record. They defeated UBC in the semi-final to qualify for Nationals before losing to Trinity Western in the championship match. Nationals were eventually cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We made it to the Can West final where we didn’t get the result we wanted. Then we were looking to bounce back at Nationals but then unfortunately it got cancelled when we were there. I’m definitely looking forward to next year and hopefully taking care of some unfinished business.”
For now Friesen will focus on his status within the Volleyball Canada program.
Canada is working towards the 2021 Summer Olympics in Beijing. He is hoping to earn a spot on the National B team, which is slated to be in action this summer.
Friesen previously was with the National Junior Team in 2019 and got called up to the B team, but eventually suffered a badly twisted ankle that cost him a chance to play that summer with the Junior team.
“I think the goal has always been to hopefully make the Olympics one day and play professionally overseas. I think just as time has gone on I am starting to see that those dreams are getting closer and more realistic. I just need to keep working and hopefully they come true.”