Swift Current’s Braedon Friesen will wear the Canadian maple leaf at a prestigious volleyball tournament in Cuba next week.
Friesen has been selected as one of 12 players on Canada’s Junior National Team which will represent the country at the NORCECA U21 Men’s Continental Championship in Havana, Cuba from August 27 to September 1. Friesen is the lone Saskatchewan player on the roster.
This has been a whirlwind year for the product of the Swift Current Comprehensive High School Colts volleyball program and the Junior SunDogs Volleyball Club. He attended tryouts for the Junior team back in May, and he was subsequently one of 16 athletes selected to Canada’s Junior National Men’s Team. He trained with the team until mid July, and spent only three and a half weeks at home before turning to the team’s training facility in Gatineau, Quebec for the past couple of weeks.
“All that hard work paid off and I got to make the travel roster to go to Cuba,” Friesen said during a phone interview earlier today.
The 6’6’’ left side hitter knew the summer training process would be a difficult road in order to be selected to the 12-player travel roster for the Cuba tournament.
“We trained a lot, but it was definitely worth it in the end.”
Friesen said he was challenged to improve his own game in order to make the team.
“It just improved my game a lot,” he said of his summer training. “I got a chance to work with some of the best coaches and staff in Canada, and just improved my skills and just became a better volleyball player.
“The big thing for me was my passing. I was kind of struggling with it at the start, but as the weeks went on it got better and better, and now it’s looking much better.”
He added that training for a higher level of competition also resulted in a tougher training regimen that he had previously experienced.
“It’s very different. The way you train, you’ve got to take care of your body and make sure you’re eating the right stuff. Where as previously I’d never really trained for this long, so it was a bit of a change but I think I adapted pretty well to it.”
The NORCECA U21 Men’s Continental Championship is a qualifying event for the volleyball world championship in 2019, so there is a lot on the line for the Canadians at this event.
“We’ve got to win this tournament in order to qualify. That’s what our goal has kind of been all summer, and we’re hoping to get the job done.”
The nine team tournament features an opening round of three teams in three pools. Canada is in Group A with Nicaragua and Mexico. Group B boasts Haiti, Barbados and host Cuba. Group C features defending champion United States, Guatemala and Dominican Republic.
Canada opens play on Monday, August 27 against Nicaragua, and they are back on the court on Wednesday, August 29 against Mexico.
Quarterfinal action is set for Thursday, August 30, with semifinal play on Friday, August 31. The gold medal and bronze medal games will be held on Saturday, September 1.
Cuba has won the U21 tournament a record five times, with the United States winning the event twice, with Canada claiming the championship twice. During the 2016 event in Gatineau, USA upended Cuba by a 25-17, 29-27, 19-25, 25-22 count.
Canada has earned medals at nine of the 10 U21 tournaments. They boast gold medals in 1998 and 2002, they have captured silver in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014, in addition to bronze medal wins in 2006 and 2016.
Friesen noted that Canada boasts a relatively young roster for this competition. The majority of the team is comprised of athletes just coming out of high school, but they also boast some experienced players who have completed a year of university volleyball.
“We’re a pretty young team, but we’re very physical.”
“We definitely don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to these big games, these big tournaments. But we’re a really close knit group. We’ve been working hard and I think we’ll do alright.”
“It’ll definitely be a great experience, and one that I’ll remember forever.”
In the fall, Friesen will join the University of Alberta Golden Bears for the 2018-2019 season.