The Maple Volleys got things started on the right foot yesterday with a 3-2 win over Belgium to open not only the 2017 World League in Group 1, but also the beginning of the Antiga era for the men's National team.
Gord Perrin led the way in his first match as Captain with 21 points, while four other players reached double-digits; Ryley Barnes and Graham Vigrass both notched 17 while Dan Jansen van Doorn and Sharone Vernon-Evans put up 10 a piece. Barnes and Vernon-Evans were both making their first appearance at the International level, as was Brad Gunter who got his first start and chipped in with 7 points early on. Sharone, who's still only 18-years old, is the youngest Canadian to ever play in a World League match.
It definitely wasn't the prettiest of matches the team has ever played, as the Maple Volleys made a whopping 40 errors over the course of five sets, but essentially dominated the Red Devils everywhere else. They out hit them 68-57 and out blocked them 13-5. Vigrass and Dan JVD had 3 a piece while Vernon-Evans threw down a couple. Although, serving practice might be in order as a cringey 21 serves were missed by the Maple Volleys. Ouch.
Considering libero Blair Bann is the "oldest" on the team at 29 - this team is a much different squad than Canadian volleyball fans are used to seeing. With youth comes change, and generally change means a lot of unforced errors - just like we saw today.
But looking past that - if you're a fan of this team, you've got to be real excited after today's performance. It was a gritty performance against a Belgium side that wouldn't go away, and while their were more errors than seagulls at the beach, it wasn't a sloppy game to watch - just frustrating in the "oh look how close that was" and the "holy crap boys let's serve the ball over the net" type of way.
The young guys really stepped up today and gave us a real good look at what the future looks like. Ryley Barnes was rock solid for all five sets and it was hard to imagine this was his first international cap. He played the perfect P2 position - solid in serve receive, made some digs, and was a great outlet - scoring 14 times on 31 attempts. Brad Gunter, who started the match on the Right Side, was strong through the first two sets, scoring 7 times on 15 attempts with 3 errors. The lefty and former TRU product has a bazooka for an arm and can hit any shot with some heavy pace.
And for the 18-year old phenom - he looked right at home with the big boys and showed that he belonged. His seven kills shouldn't be surprising to anyone who's seen him play before - but putting away that C-ball to close the 3rd was a big shot and is already showing the confidence setter TJ Sanders has in him. Despite his middle-esque frame, his defence wasn't a liability as he made 3 digs on 7 chances, and showed up big at the net on both occasions he was asked too.
Next up for Team Canada is the USA at 10:00 a.m. ET on Saturday morning. Which is probably this morning unless you're reading this later in the week - than none of this matters to you and you should probably stop reading. But definitely go check out our World League page because I'm sure whatever you're looking for will be there! If not, feel free to send us a message on Facebook or Instagram or via email or on Twitter or through Snapchat. But those are the only places.