It has taken a while for Seth Friesen to get back to his old form on the volleyball court, but the 16-year-old Brandonite believes it was worth the wait.
In November 2012, Friesen went to see a doctor to get a diagnosis for his chronic back pain, only to find out he had a stress fracture in one of his vertebrae from playing volleyball, basketball, soccer and badminton. He was faced with a decision to keep going and making it worse, or sitting out for up to a year to let it heal.
Friesen, who was then in Grade 10, chose the latter, figuring he would have plenty of time in his final two years of high school to impress university volleyball coaches enough to make his dream of playing in the CIS come true.
While he felt the decision wasn’t hard to make, the recovery time was incredibly difficult.
"It was so hard to just sit on the bench and watch my team play without me, but I had to keep in mind that if I did that then I would be able to come back and play and be better the next year," he said. "I had to think about that because it was really rough … I helped out at practices and caught balls and threw balls, but I couldn’t do anything. I focused on school a lot because I haven’t had much time for it. I had extra time and I needed to fill it with something."
Luckily for Friesen, he recovered in six months, just in time to play at club volleyball nationals with his Brandon Volleyball Club team. He spent last summer on the provincial 16U ‘A’ team volleyball team and rejoined the Vincent Massey Vikings varsity boys’ volleyball and basketball teams for his Grade 11 year. He is currently playing with the 17-and-under BVC team, although the 6-foot-7 left side admits he’s more cautious to make sure he doesn’t tweak his back again.
"I have to be careful," he said. "I’m not playing badminton this year and I was careful in basketball because I didn’t want to hurt it again. They said it was a possibility, so I’ve had to lay back a lot.
"I’ve had some muscular pain and I’ve been back to the doctors about that, but they’ve given me some stretches and exercises and some ideas about what to do if it happens, so we think we have it under control.
"It’s always on my mind, but as time passes, it’s slowly fading away. Hopefully if it doesn’t bother me down the road so I completely forget about it and move on."
Friesen admits it took time to get back to the level of play he was at previously in volleyball before he sought treatment. He feels he surpassed that level early in the club season and he helped BVC’s 17U squad finish fifth in the BVC Classic’s 17/18U age group over the weekend.
Friesen credits his improvement to Brandon University Bobcats Sam Tuivai and Roy Ching, who are coaching his club team.
In addition to his imposing size, Friesen moves well and can cover a lot of court on defence. On offence, he is known as a hard hitter, but is gradually becoming a more complete player after Tuivai told him to take a step back and focus on the spots he’s trying to hit and his footwork.
His club coaches are also grooming him to be a leader, which is something he hasn’t been in the past few years.
"They want me to be a leader and somebody they can count on in tough times," he said. "They want me to see the big picture as well and help develop the other guys on the team as well.
"It has been (different). The last two years I’ve played varsity for Vincent Massey and I’ve been one of the younger guys on the team in Grades 10 and 11. Now playing at my own age group for club, it’s a new role for sure."
Ultimately, Friesen is looking to follow in his brother Jared’s footsteps and play volleyball at the CIS level. However, that’s not his focus right now. Instead, he wants to stay healthy, help his club team battle for a provincial title and see how far they can get after that.
"Provincials is the first goal," said Friesen, whose brother Jared red-shirted with the BU Bobcats this past season. "Everything we do leads up to that and based on how we do at provincials is how we’ll be ranked at nationals.
"We’ll try to win provincials. Obviously there are other good teams out there, but we’ve taken at least a set off of every team in the province so far, so there’s really no one defined team that can win provincials. It’s up in the air. If we keep working hard, we can do that."