Team Canada has pulled off their first win of the 2014 FIVB World Championships, upsetting No. 8 Bulgaria 3-2 (17-25, 25-17, 20-25, 26-24, 15-8) this morning in Gdansk, Poland.
The opening set gave Canadian fans hope, then crushed them almost immediately. The boys jumped out of the gate, holding a 8-2 lead at the first time out, only to have it completely erased by the second, Bulgaria having come back to hold a 16-15 lead. The breakdown didn’t end there, as Canada proceeded to give up 6 straight points on route to dropping the opener 25-17.
“Uh oh, here we go again” could almost be heard on the lips of every volleyball fan in the country. As soon as Bulgaria pushed back, Canada became the customers that every restaurant loves, tipping every chance they got.
Instead of the lacklustre performances we’ve seen after past breakdowns, Canada continued to battle with the Bulgarians, finding themselves all locked up at 8. Then Dustin Schneider was injected to the line-up, bringing new life to the squad on the floor. Back to back blocks from Perrin and Simac put the Canucks ahead, and a Perrin ace widened the gap on route to Canada taking a 25-17 win of their own to tie it up.
The Canadians struggled to find their rhythm in the 3rd, with errors form the baseline allowing Bulgaria to establish their offence and steal Canada’s advantage in blocking. While a Schmitt ace made it 19-20, Bulgaria pushed with serving pressure of their own for the 25-20 win.
In the fourth many could hear the fat lady warming up, as Bulgaria held a decisive 19-15 lead. The ‘Volleyball Source Turning Point’ (Hopefully TSN doesn’t have that copyrighted) came with Canada trailing 21-23. Simac chased down a ball and Schneider made a huge dig to keep the rally alive, letting Schmitt absolutely stuff Sokolov to bring the team within one. Hoag chipped in with another block and Gavin ripped an ace from the baseline to force a fifth, 26-24.
Bulgaria held the lead for all of two points, but Canada held all the momentum and we’re comfortable in the system. They held a 6-3 lead early, which widened to 11-7, and finally, Nick Hoag capped off his coming out party with a wipe off the block, securing the 15-8 win.
The win gives Canada two points and a record of 1-1 in Pool C, with Egypt, China and Mexico still to come, giving Canada an excellent chance at moving on to Phase 2.
This match showed us a battle of the heavyweights that everyone wanted to see. Both Schmitt and Sokolov went blow for blow, finishing tied for points at 22 a piece. But if you look a little closer, you’ll see that Schmitt was the obvious winner, scoring 18 times on 31 attempts, hitting over 50%. While his partner managed one more kill, 19, he also did so with almost 20 more attempts, seeing 50 sets over the course of the match.
It’s in this that lies the secret to Canada’s win: Dustin Schneider’s mastery of setting and his ability to spread the offence. While Schmitt saw the ball 31 times, Gord Perrin saw it once more receiving 32 sets, and Nick Hoag was paced with 24. All three players finished in the double digits. (Perrin - 14 kills, Hoag - 15 kills). On top of this, Simac and Duff we’re looking at 1-on-0’s down the middle all day long, both hitting above 50% as well. It was clear it at the end of the match that the block in white knew where the ball was headed, while those in green sat around helplessly.
Just like we mentioned in the pre-game preview, blocking and serving were crucial in the win. In the third when the serving pressure was missing, the block also suffered as Zhekov was allowed to run his preferred offence, creating room for Sokolov. While Canada did lose the serving battle in terms of aces, Bulgaria scored 9 to our 5, the difference was in the pressure on the balls kept in play. In the later moments of the match, Sokolov was often receiving his set from behind the attack line, while having three sets of hands in his face, taking away his physical advantage.
The blocking battle was decisively in Canada’s advantage,besting the eastern europens in that department 13-7 with Simac and Duff getting 5 and 3 respectively. “We don’t need to stop them, just slow them down and play defence around it.” Was heard from Dan Lewis during a timeout, and that’s exactly what Team Canada did.
Finally, has Nicholas Hoag solved our lack of depth on the outside? We’ve seen flashes of potential at the NORCECA Championships and the World League, but tonight was his coming out party. Yes, the numbers are impressive, 14 kills, a block and an ace, but the way he played brought a new flare to the Canadian squad. There’s no doubt that the youngest Hoag is dynamic and has a lighting fast arm, but his work in serve and on defence were world class. We saw American Taylor Sander emerge in this summer’s World League, will the World Championships be the chance Hoag needs to teach the world a thing or two?
Canada has a well deserved day off tomorrow before facing Egypt on the 5th. As always, stay tuned to Volleyball Source for all your World Championships needs!