The Canadian men's national team has clinched the fourth and final berth for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games for the first time in 24 years with a 3-2 (25-16, 20-25, 24-26, 25-20, 15-9) win over China at the 2016 FIVB World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Tokyo, Japan.
Gord Perrin led the match with 27 points (25 K, 1 A, 1B) while Gavin Schmitt added 23 points (17 K, 3 A, 3B) including three-straight aces in the fifth set - giving Canada the spread they needed to take the match. The pair also topped the tournament in scoring - Perrin leading with 1ith 122 points and Schmitt coming in just behind with 119.
Canada's win alone wasn't enough - they needed help from Poland who defeated Australia 3-0 (25-21, 25-15, 26-24). A win for the Aussies would have meant a flipped scenario. While on paper many would take Poland, the No. 2 team had already grabbed their ticket to Rio, and opted to start a much younger, less experienced squad.
Last time men's volleyball went to the Olympics was 1992 - the same year Nick Hoag was born. His father, Head Coach Glenn Hoag, was visibly emotional after the match. As Canada had to wait for the result of the Poland vs. Australia match to learn their fate, the celebration that followed the win was somewhat reserved - players knowing full well a 5-set was less then ideal with the match-up ahead.
For Hoag, this match ended a journey 10-years in the making - bringing the men's team from the lowest point in program history to one of it's highest. This team has broken new ground for Canadian volleyball volleyball along the way, with a fifth-place finish in the 2013 World League and a seventh at the 2015 World Championships - best ever finishes for both competitions. No matter those successes, the end goal is the Olympics, and that's where the bar was set. Especially after the crushing loss in Edmonton in January, this team had much more on the line than just grabbing a spot in Rio.
It's a lifelong dream for any athlete to compete for their country at the Olympics, but less than five months ago, Gavin Schmitt was in a hospital bed recovering from his second surgery, now on the opposite leg, in less than two years. In less than five months, he came back stronger than ever to lead this team to help lead this team to victory. Just another story to add to the ever-growing legend of one of Canada's greatest volleyballers. Period.
It wasn't easy, and it wasn't pretty - but it looks like the gritty style Canadians grow up playing hockey with, works on the volleyball court as well. The journey doesn't end here - but with Rio on the horizon, the Maple Volleys are well on to writing a new chapter in Canadian volleyball. To all the fans who followed along this ride - hope you're ready for another one because it's not over yet.