If I didn’t see it for myself, I wouldn’t believe. In their first ever match in the World League Finals, Canada defeated World No. 2 and defending Olympic champion Russia 3-2 (20-25, 21-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-11) in what could be called the biggest victory in Canadian volleyball history.
Not only did they play the role of the underdog, but on this day, they were also the comeback kids. Down two sets to Russia, most teams would have folded, but instead, Canada’s character shone bright as they fought back to force a fifth set.
Then they did it again. Trailing 7-2 against the 2011 World League Champions in the fifth set doesn’t generally bode well for most teams. Luckily, Canada’s spark plug, and easily the most surprising player of the tournament, Rudy Verhoeff was on the serving line. Not only did he rattle of a couple of aces, he also started a five-point comeback to leave Canada trailing by only one, 8-7, at the timeout.
It was all Canada from that point on.
Maybe it was the physically and mentally draining match against Brazil the night before that killed the Russians, but after the Verhoeff’s five-point serving run, they seemed depleted, unable to do anything properly anymore.
As for the Canadians, it was an up and down night.
Although they lost the first two sets, it wasn’t due to overall poor play, more so inconsistent hitting and some ill-timed mental mistakes. The team just always seemed like they were following the script: playing Russia in their first ever World League Finals, they were supposed to lose, right?
Well if they were following the script in the first two sets, then they must have decided to do a little improvisation. They didn’t come storming back with incredible, their game was a slight bit more polished, but the attitude they brought to the court was much different.
Much like the Intercontinental Round, Canada saw multiple players contribute throughout the match, while 11 players saw the court throughout the match.
Gord Perrin led the match with 20 points (19 kills, 1 block), while eight other players contributed with points. On the right side, Dallas Soonias started the match, only to be quickly replaced by Gavin Schmitt, who played for the first time since June 7th against Portugal. Schmitt registered 13 points (12 kills, 1 block) in three and a half sets of work, and was subbed out in the 4th by Soonias, who finished the match with eight points (7 kills, 1 ace).
Coach Hoag mentioned before the match that he would be using Schmitt sparingly to ease him back into things. Luckily for the Canadians, both opposites seem to playing on their highest gear, as they almost seem interchangeable right now.
In the middle, all four options were used and combined for 21 points, with only Rudy Verhoeff playing in all four sets. This bodes well for the red and white since it seems that any combination of men down the middle can be used successfully, while keeping them fresh for the rest of the tournament.
For those who aren’t keeping track, since 2011, Canada has defeated four of the conventional powerhouses of volleyball. Their first big win came against Serbia at the 2010 World Championships, then Cuba at the 2012 Olympic Qualifiers. Everyone remembers the epic five-set win against Brazil in last year’s World League in Toronto, and now Russia, the defending Olympic Champions.
Many on the realm of the Internet are praising the Canadian team for the result (including Prime Minister Harper), and stating that no matter what happens next, they are proud of the results thus far. As much as this is true, it is an incredible feat for this program, but why not strive for more? The fact of the matter is; Canada’s play against Russia wasn’t even close to their best play thus far.
At times, it was sloppy, inconsistent, and downright ugly. Defense seemed to be hit or miss, while the serve receive at times was downright awful, giving away points on over-passes. In addition, many times throughout the match the Russian defense seem to handle even our best attacks with ease.
If Canada was bring up the consistency of their game, and continue to roll the lineup, why not look for a second win in two years against Brazil? There's no doubt it won't be easy, but they've done it before, so let's have a little faith in a team that has already surprised us on countless occasions.
Canada will face Brazil on Friday July 19th at 3:30 p.m. EST. The matched will be aired live on Rogers Sportsnet One. For those without access to the channel, Volleyball Source will provide live internet streams.
Don't forget to tune in right here at 3 p.m. EST for the Volleyball Source Live Pre-Game show, where you'll be able to be up to date before the match even starts!