FIVB: Must Win Against Australia Tonight
Team Canada is looking for it's first win of the 2016 FIVB World Olympic Qualifying tournament in Tokyo as they take on Australia at 9:10 p.m. ET tonight.
The Maple Volleys are currently in seventh place in the eight team tournament with two points after five-sets losses to Poland and Iran to open the tournament.
Fatigue was a huge factor for Canada in the loss to Iran on Saturday evening, who were playing their second five-setter in less than 24 hours. After a back-and-forth first set, Canada looked to be in complete control in the 2nd taking it easily. While things were competitive from that point on, you could tell Canada was starting to struggle a little bit - not to much, but a missed opportunity goes a long way at this level. Iran, who had taken care of Australia in three much earlier in the afternoon the day before, we're able to capitalize by turning up the heat from the baseline and speed-up their already fast offence.
It's easy to look back on both matches and think about what could've been - a win in either match would've put Canada in the divers seat.
However let's one thing make clear: that they are far from being out of this race.
On paper, Canada's lost to the only two teams ranked in front of them, and managing to come away with two points is not bad spot to be in. This team will have to uphold they're World No. 10 ranking and come away with at least four wins - with Australia, Venezuela, and France up next, Canada needs at least six points from these games if they want a shot at the Top Four.
Moving forward, there's plenty of positives to build on for Canada.
Gavin Schmitt has seamlessly transitioned back to the player he was before surgeries in both his legs - and he might even be better. After two matches, he leads the tournament in points (44) and kills (34), and is hitting a .600. He's also been a terror from the baseline - seeing Gavin with 5 aces (good for 3rd in the tournament) isn't something we're necessarily surprised about, it's the consistency and pace where he's stepped up his game. He's been at the line 37 times already - most in the tournament behind TJ Sanders and France's Kevin Tillie and Kevin Leroux who all have 41. Just watch the way Iran celebrated when Gavin missed his serve - teams are scared of him.
In addition to Gavin, everything else seems to be rolling pretty effectively. It's been a while since we've seen both Gord Perrin and Nick Hoag healthy at the same time - and with 31 and 24 points a piece, they're making sure Canada's not the one-man-Gavin show we've sometimes been known to be. Gord's also posting a 50% serve-receive rating - good for 5th in the tournament so far.
TJ Sanders continues to look sharp, and is establishing himself as one of the top setters in the world. He's distributed the ball almost even between the three outsides: Perrin with 58 sets, Schmitt with 57 and Hoag with 49, and has been getting all three consistent good looks. As mentioned earlier, he's tied for the tournament lead in serves attempts - which is good for Maple Volley fans as he can bring it with both the spinner and the floater.
There is some question marks, however, the main one being the libero position. Dan Lewis, despite being the most veteran player on the team, has been the weakest link. His serve receive rating of 25% is well below both Gord's (50%) and Nick (37%), and his nine (9) serve receive errors leads the tournament. When you take into account many of those errors came in the fifth-set losses, and that Lewis is only on the court for serve receive, this is a big hole he will need to fix.
Blair Bann has done an adequate job as the defensive libero, but averaging only one (1) dig per set isn't making the game-changing difference the position has grown to be. It's not a 100% fair demand since he's only in for 50% of the plays - but with the Olympics on the line, thing's have got to be better. At this rate, you have to wonder if splitting the time on court is more beneficial or detrimental to the players.
Despite being down 0-2 - Rio is still in sight for the Maple Volleys. You can think back to the 2013 World League, where Canada started by losing matches to the Netherlands and Portugal then won six straight to win Group 2 and qualify for the Finals where to defeated Russia and finished 5th.
If Canada can come away with the win over Australia tonight, then they'll be back on track to finishing Top Four - and grabbing that ticket to Rio.