Team Canada has made history. The Canadian men's indoor team has reached the World League Finals for the first time. The annual FIVB tournament is in its 24th edition and this is the seventh Canadian participation. Before this season, Canada’s best place in the standings was a 7th in 1992. This was also the last time Canada qualified for the Olympics.
The Canadians finished first in pool C, with eight victories and only two losses. Six squads will play the finals in Mar del Plata, Argentina from July 17th - 21st. Besides the host team and Canada, Brazil and Italy have already clinched a berth in the finals. The other two spots will be defined this coming weekend. In pool A, Bulgaria hosts Poland for two matches in front of their home crowd in Varna. Both teams fight for a place in Mar del Plata, while Team USA has a remote chances to make it, as they play group leader Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. In pool B, Germany has to win twice by 3-0 or 3-1 against the surprising Iranians in Tehran. Iran has won four matches so far defeating Italy, Serbia and Cuba, but has no chance to advance. If the Germans fail, the second berth goes to Russia.
Glenn Hoag spoke with us upon his arrival in Quebec, after a weekend in Japan where Canada beat the host twice to secure a spot in the finals.
Will be Gavin Schmitt be back to play the in the finals in Mar del Plata? Are you satisfied with the way Dallas Soonias has been playing?
We monitor Gavin's situation day by day. He is progressing well, but as far as going to Argentina we don't know yet. Dallas started a little slow in his first match after his shoulder surgery but got better and better as we played more matches, I am very happy with his performance.
Which match was the toughest for Canada so far in this World League?
I think the last one against Japan, as we knew we needed to win and we would qualify. This was a real test for my group, but they reacted well. But in the end all the matches were hard ones.
What are the main weaknesses of the team this season?
We need to improve on many things. However, since we don't have Gavin, serving is a little weaker. We still have to work on our offence, too.
Why those constant changes in setting? Sometimes Dustin Schneider, sometimes Josh Howatson was in the starting-six. Were they having too many ups and downs?
It's not because of ups and downs, it's just that I need to give Dustin more court time since he stayed in the training centre (in Gatineau, Quebec) this past fall-winter to rehabilitate his knee and now he needs to get a lot of matches to get his level back. We are going to play our continental championship and I have to get him ready. Dustin is a real big part of our offence, and he is getting closer to his best level. Josh played in the French league this year, so he was more ready. But I'm confident that we will improve this aspect of our game with these matches.
Besides that problem with Gavin, any other injuries make you worried for the finals?
For now everyone is pretty healthy, Fred Winters had some problems with his throat on the travel back, but he saw a doctor on Tuesday (July 9th) morning. But apart for small aches and pains nothing major for now.
When will the team be heading to Argentina?
We will likely leave on Sunday.
What are your expectations for the finals? You think about the podium?
We will fight for every point because we don't want to just go there to be there. It will be a tough tournament, but also a great opportunity to play excellent teams, to improve our game, and to compare to these teams and make a good analysis of our level and what we need to work on.
What are the other goals for this season and also for this cycle?
One goal was to win our pool in World League and reach the finals. We also would like to win our continental championship in September. For the whole cycle the main objective will be to qualify for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Do you believe Team Canada is ready to challenge the powerhouses?
I think we are getting close. We have a good group and a couple up and coming young players will join us soon and add to the value of the team. The rest is about how I can bring the level of those players to challenge the powerhouses, it will be a big challenge for me, but a good one.