Training with Team Canada on their way to NORCECA, veteran libero Dan Lewis found some time to talk to us. The most experienced player on Canada’s roster is going to play again in Poland for the next club season. He’ll play for Zaksa, a team that was runner-up in the last season of Polish league. Lewis is also very excited for NORCECA, a continental tournament Canada has never won, but is going into as one of the favourites. If Team Canada reaches the top of the podium, they’ll play at the World Grand Champions Cup in November in Japan.
Before playing NORCECA, Canada will tour in Europe, where they’ll play some exhibition friendlies. Some of the opponents over in Europe include some top squads like Bulgaria, fourth at London Olympics and at the last World League.
What are Canada's goals for the rest of the season?
We did have a small break After World League we had a small break, but then we started a new phase which consists in an eight-week preparation for NORCECA. If we finish first, which means beating USA, Cuba and Puerto Rico, then we qualify for the World Grand Champions Cup (FIVB tournament with the continental champions held in Japan). That’s our goal this year. We’re heading to Europe, where we’re going to play Bulgaria, Slovenia and Denmark, so we will have a good preparation.
What are your thoughts on our main NORCECA rival, The USA?
USA is going through a rebuilding year, we are going through a rebuilding decade. Volleyball in Canada was almost in a dark age before (coach) Glenn Hoag, there was no proper structure. Since he came in 2006 this has been his project – rebuilding volleyball in Canada and I think we’re finally getting to the stage where we can compete with everybody internationally, I think we’ve proved that in last two years. Now we step on the court having a very high level. That starts in training, starts mentally. We are getting there, I think right now anytime we play somebody like the USA I’m hoping for 50-50 chance. But we’ll be at home so we have a little bit more advantage. Like I said they are rebuilding the squad with the new coach and not as many older players.
Your thoughts on Reid Priddy and Clay Stanley potentially coming back to Team USA?
It’ll be interesting to see if those guys from the gold squad are going to slow down a bit. Are they going to mix with the younger guys? I think that’s what happened to the last squad, they got to the situation when half of the team were gold medallist from Beijing and half young guys who haven’t done much but were still talented players. I don’t think they mixed very well. I don’t know if that’s going to be the case if Reid and Clay will be back. I think this coach may be better managing the players than the previous guy. I think Alan Knipe (former USA coach) favourited old guys and that doesn’t necessarily help the old guys either. This is their situation and I’m not really concerned about that, all I’m concerned about is what Team Canada does to get stronger. We’re going to have a chance against everybody, we’ve proved this to ourselves by beating Russia. This was a big step, another big step. We need to do it at every single match. We need these big matches, so our goal will be to win, there’s no doubt.
How do? other teams see Canada after we beat Russia?
I think they will start looking at us a little bit different now. Last couple of years we’ve had wins against Serbia, Russia, Cuba, and Brazil. I think they understand that we can compete, they look at our team and they realize also we still have a lot to grow and also they see our coach and they think okay this guy is a threat. Wherever he goes he’s a threat. It’s also going to be a new position for us to be in. Sometimes we still give certain teams a little bit too much respect. You always want to respect your opponent, but you don’t really want to give them too much of it, like “Oh, they won that, can do this in this action because this is Russia or Brazil”. I’d like to play Poland right now. Because we’ve always had trouble against Poland and I’d really love to play them right now. That’d be a good test for us. Our goal for now is to win everything in our zone.
Thoughts on 2013 World League Finals?
We wanted to get Bulgaria in Final Six and wanted to knock up Brazil. And getting Bulgaria in semis, that would have been nice, but we’ve blew it in second game (against Brazil, after beating Russia). We didn’t actually play that well against Russia, we can still improve. We dig a lot of balls but we don’t get a lot of transition swings and we’re going to working on that for sure.
Canada’s program and players:
With the development of our players we are a bit behind Europe, we have the university system like USA but not the same quality. We develop our skills later, our 23-24 years old is like 19 in Europe. This is a big gap that Glenn is working on. The full time training centre in Canada for those who just finished university to quickly put them in national team is a huge tool to our program and this is helping to close that gap. We still have a little bit to go, but we are going to analyse it. He also took a couple of guys to Europe, like Gord Perrin, Justin Duff, now Gavin Schmitt is going with him. This will also help to sort out our spot in our team, because Gavin is physically just massive, but he does need a little bit of work especially with his wrist. It’s going to be fun to see Gavin next year in the summer after a year with Glenn.
World Championships next year
That’s the thing, we want these competitions. We are going to qualify for the world champs, there’s no doubt in my mind about that, because it’d be a disaster if we didn’t. We need these big teams and games all the time. Every single year we’re getting more matches. If we have chance to play World Grand Champions Cup and World Championships later, these are such important matches for us. I didn’t understand how important they are until last year maybe. We went to World Championships in 2010 and there we only got three matches and that killed us. We’ve got that win against Serbia (3-1), but we needed more to advance. We didn’t get that of course until last year World League, and then it took another year to win with Russia. That’s the problem for the teams that are not in top 10-12, they don’t get these matches.
Your next club season in Zaksa (Poland)
I’m happy to come back to Zaksa now, I want to play left side again, I’ve been playing libero for four years now. I can still perform there and it’s a bit more fun because libero is such a strange position and it’s tough mentally. And although I can handle it, it’s not that fun. I have few more good years and I want to be again a left side and spend that time playing for a competitive team. Besides, there weren’t very many options for me because not many people think I can do it on the left side. But I haven’t felt ever healthier in my career, even when I was younger. Of course I’m 37 so I don’t have this explosiveness that I’ve had let’s say at age of 25-30. However, my experience now is much greater and also my volleyball understanding especially playing for Glenn these last six years. Many clubs in Europe don’t really understand volleyball, you know. And I say this in general because I’ve been in some clubs and I see other clubs and they don’t really know how to put together a winning team. A lot of clubs look for a lot of individuals but they don’t know how to put them together. I need to play for a club that understands that there aren’t only seven players, but actually 12 guys that you’re going to use all year to get a championship. I want to go to a club that knows how to build a champion team and will understand that this is my role and I’m going to do that well. I’m not going to be a massively scoring at the net but I will get you many opportunities to score because I’m going to dig up some balls, slow down some balls and this is a thing that Sebastian (Swiderski, the coach) needs.