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Two World Championship tickets in the bag: Canadian volleyball remains on the up

Gavin Schmitt is enjoying the upturn in Canada's fortunes
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 27, 2014 - The fact that this year’s FIVB World Championships will feature Canada’s men's and women's national teams, which have both qualified for the first time on home soil for this year’s international showdown, is confirmation of the volleyball boom in the North American country.

Neither the delighted players nor the federation, however, showed any signs of wasting time celebrating in Mississauga. “We are happy to have Canada qualify on home soil, which is historic, but we know we have a busy season ahead for both teams and a lot of work to do,” said Julien Boucher, High Performance Director for indoor programs.

The men’s national team claimed a comfortable 3-0 win (25-14, 25-15, 25-16) against a Costa Rica team which was inferior in terms of physical power. Dallas Soonias and Gord Perrin led the scoring for Canada with 13 points each, followed by captain Fred Winters with 12.

Attentions now turn to the FIVB World League. The Canadians launch their campaign at this year’s showdown between the best teams in the world against Finland on May 31 and June 1 in Calgary.

“We just wanted to focus on finishing the qualification properly and qualifying for worlds, and we did that,” said coach Glenn Hoag. “We rotated the players and gave them all a chance to play in this big gym, which is what we’re going to be facing in big tournaments. We obviously have a lot of things to work on. Our next opponent Finland will be harder.”

Canada are looking to follow on from last year’s phenomenal appearance. Having already surprised many by reaching the World League's Final Round, they then caused a major shock by defeating eventual winners and Olympic champions Russia. This success elevated the Canadians to eleventh in the world rankings. It also increased the profile of the sport back in Canada, where volleyball had previously been seen as something of an outsider compared to national sports like ice hockey. “It’s been fun to see the sport growing,” said international Gavin Schmitt.

Speaking in an interview, Schmitt gave the appointment of national team coach Glenn Hoag in 2006 as the main reason for the upturn: “He re-implemented how we play volleyball, putting systems in place, making us more disciplined, building a team culture so that when we come back from our pro seasons overseas we come right back into Team Canada volleyball doing what we’re supposed to do.” Hoag is demanding that his team works harder on details like its service game if it wants to take the final step into the world elite.

The Canadians have their sights set on making more positive headlines at the FIVB Men’s World Championship from August 30 September 21 in Poland. Possible opponents in the group stage are Olympic champions Russia, Bulgaria, Egypt, China and another team from the NORCECA federation. Canada’s men are making their seventh appearance in a row at an FIVB World Championship, their tenth in total. Ninth place in 1994 is the best finish so far, and the Canadians would be happy with a similar result this time around.

Canada’s ladies do not enjoy quite such a high profile on the international stage as their male colleagues. The confident manner in which they qualified for the FIVB Women’s World Championship from September 23 to October 12 in Italy, however, is evidence that the supposedly weaker sex in the land of the maple leaf is also on the up.

Mexico were efficiently defeated 3-0 (25-16, 25-19, 25-17) in the final of NORCECA Women’s World Championship Qualification Tournament Pool S. Kyla Richey led the Canadian scoring with 14 points, while Tabitha Love added 12 to the total. “We worked so hard in the last two and a half weeks we had together. It’s so great to have our ticket to Italy. We’re back and we raised our level of play,” Kyla Richey commented. One further push should also secure a place in the FIVB World Grand Prix.

The team will need to improve enormously, however, if it is to progress at the FIVB Women’s World Championship: tough opponents await in the preliminary round, in the form of Olympic champions Brazil, Serbia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Cameroon. In seven previous World Championship appearances, Canada have so far failed to finish in the top ten, and that looks like being another very tough ask of the team ranked number 20 in the world this time around. Despite this, international Shanice Marcelle remains optimistic that Canadian volleyball is still on an upwards curve: “This is the first step to the 2016 Olympics. The goal now is to go to the worlds and improve our ranking and look to jump up.”


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