After five years of playing libero for the Clippers men’s volleyball team, Pablo Acuna will say his goodbyes to Briercrest. But his goodbye to Canada will be short-lived.
Acuna, from San Jose, Costa Rica, will be back in this country and back on the volleyball court May 16. However, it won’t be the same.
He’ll be playing in Mississauga, Ont. and wearing a Costa Rican National Team jersey. Acuna and the other national team members will be playing for a spot at the 2014 FIVB Volleyball World Championships. He will be playing against Canada in a pool consisting of Canada, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and Panama. And while he concedes Canada will likely finish first out of that pool, directly qualifying for the championships, he likes Costa Rica’s chance for second spot in the wild card battle.
Acuna, 25, says his volleyball career at Briercrest helped him to the level of play to make his country’s national team for the second time.
His trip through Briercrest to national competitions began years ago when Athletes in Action sent a volleyball team to his home city. He was involved in the program and hosted players at his house. Among them was a player from Briercrest College who talked to him about coming to Canada to attend the college and work on his volleyball skills. In San Jose, he said, there is a ceiling for developing your volleyball skills. Because all of the players are involved in league play and play against each other all the time, there is a level a player reaches with no place to improve his skills.
So he applied to attend Briercrest and volleyball coach Nigel Mullan invited him to try out for the team five years ago.
“Nigel Mullan is one of the top two volleyball coaches in the ACAC (college league) and one of the best inCanada. His knowledge of the game and way of communicating with the players has an impact on his players,” Acuna said.
He also credits his teammates with helping him develop his skills.
“There is a big difference between the volleyball culture here and at home. Here, the sense of urgency is bigger and the sense of discipline is bigger. Here, every practice matters, every point matters. You always want to get better.
“Playing (at Briercrest) has made me a more mature player, a smarter player.”
Acuna said his passing has improved and his ability to read the ball has improved.
But, he came here for more than the volleyball. He will return with a degree in business. This past year, he started working on his master of arts in leadership and management degree, which he hopes to complete through distance learning. He is hoping to land a job in sports marketing at home.
But the goodbyes don’t come easy.
“It (the volleyball team) feels like family, totally. Briercrest is special. You can leave the program, but in some sense you are always still part of the program. The school does a good job of keeping its alumni involved,” he said.
The graduating Clipper is grateful to many of the players on the team who forced him to up his play.
“Scott Lesher, playing with him you could sense his sense of urgency, he was demanding you to be better but at the same time saying ‘I’m with you, I know you can be better.’
“And Joel Dyck, I’ve never seen a more constant player. Through him, I learned to be constant and calm.”
He pointed to other players who taught him discipline and execution.
However, he said it’s time to move on.
“The last five years at Briercrest have been good. In two national appearances, we finished second and third. In the ACAC, we were in the top four all five years. I can’t complain. Obviously I wanted to finish with a gold medal, but after five years, I’m satisfied with my play at Briercrest.
“I’m ready to move on, to show what I have learned spiritually and personally. I want to see what’s next.”
He will continue playing volleyball in theSan Joseleague and “hopefully I will find a job I love and can enjoy.”
Meanwhile, he will be working on those tough goodbyes.
“I have a real close group of friends here and it will be hard to say goodbye.”