Diego Bustos DN Feature - Tijuana Sunrise shining Bright

December 8th, 2013

Tijuana Sunrise shining bright

Second-year import Diego Bustos taking on a bigger role with Vancouver Island University Mariners
By Josh Aldrich, Nanaimo Daily News

It's taken some time, but Diego Bustos is finally feeling at home, more than 2,000 kilometres from where he grew up.

The fourth year senior power is in his second season with the Vancouver Island University Mariners men's volleyball team, and has taken on a bigger role with the team with each passing week.

With the Pacific Western Athletic Association on a semester break, his teammates will find out a lot more about the man they call the Tijuana Sunrise when they go to his Mexican hometown for a training trip.

"I have finally found confidence in myself," said the six-foot-three Bustos, 22. "Last year was a big change for me and it maybe took me that year to find myself in the team and school and here in Nanaimo, and I think I found it."

There was a bit of a leadership vacuum heading into this season with the graduation of all-Canadian middle Lee Hamilton. Several players have stepped up to fill the role, but not many were really counting on Bustos to necessarily be one of those players.

Not because he was a bad guy or a problem, but because in his first year with the team he was very reserved, very much in the shadows as he adjusted to an entirely different life, culture and city.

He has blossomed this year, on and off the court.

"He's got a niche now, the boys love him," said Mariners head coach Abe Avender. "He's got a cool group of people at residence, he's an RA, so he has the whole floor come out (to games) and they have songs for him and other stuff. It's real neat, he's got a cool comfortable vibe now."

His statistical number will not blow anyone away. He's not going to have a 35-kill weekend or dig 40 balls, but he does it all for the Mariners. He can play several positions and is at his best when the M's need it the most.

The Mariners have leaned on him more and more as the season goes on, starting with their 3-0 win over the Columbia Bible College Bearcats on Nov. 1. They went into that week in last place in the PacWest with a 1-5 record. Since then, they have gone on a 6-2 run and have jumped into third place in the league.

The last two weeks before the break, Bustos was particularly impressive, averaging 9.5 kills, 3.75 digs, three blocks and 2.5 aces a match as VIU has gone 3-1 in that time.

"It's hard to see on a stat sheet the clutch of some of his kills and some of his serves," said Avender. "When you're going back there and it's 22-all and you're going to serve, some guys hose it into the net, Diego goes on a three-point run and we win. You can't tell if it's 10 kills, when those kills were, but if you get down or you're trying to match out, you get a chance to put it in his hands and he's a gamer."

Bustos has spent a lifetime in the sport.

He grew up playing volleyball and football at Tijuana Prep High School in Baja, Mexico, and even trained with the Mexican national junior volleyball team for a while.

He spent his first two years of post-secondary volleyball playing at Grossmont College Griffins in San Diego, a Pacific Coast Athletic Conference school, but transferred up to VIU and Nanaimo last year.

There were a lot of challenges in making the move, everything from weather to language to meeting people and adjusting to a different style of volleyball.

He is far more comfortable now.

"I just feel part of it and I'm seeing the effects of it on the court," said Bustos.

Now he gets to show his teammates a fair bit more of his life. They had originally planned to do a training session in San Diego with several other Canadian Colleges Athletic Association programs, but it fell through.

The Mexican national team has their training centre in Tijuana - right across the border from San Diego - and Bustos still has some strong ties to the program, so he hooked his new team up.

They will be in Tijuana from Dec. 27 to Jan. 3, and will train with the national team and coaches and stay at the training centre.

"It's one of the nicest facilities in North America, it's brand new and state of the art," said Avender.

"We're going to train high performance, we're going down there to be the fittest, best team in the PacWest when we get home."

Bustos is hoping the M's will also open a few eyes in Mexico.

"I'm very excited to let my volleyball friends in Tijuana know the team I'm playing with right now and show them Canadian teams are very good in volleyball," said Bustos.