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World Cup: Canada Faces Rude Awakening Against Brazil

Canada opened up the 2019 World Cup with a 0-3 (14-25, 22-25, 14-25) loss at the hands of World No. 1 Brazil in Nagano, Japan this morning.

From the minute the starting lineups were announced against Brazil this morning, you knew things were going to be a little different than we’re used to for Team Canada at this World Cup.

Absent from the lineup are veteran pillars Gord Perrin and Graham Vigrass - both of whom are taking the gruelling 15-day tournament off in favour of rest, while this summer’s most reliable scorer Ryan Sclater is taking some time to be a dad after to his less-than-year old daughter.

But most noticeably absent was a certain bald-headed mastermind we’re used to seeing standing ponderously on the sidelines. The elder Hoag is already soaking up the sun in Izmir where he’s getting ready for the season with Arkas, leaving Dan Lewis to call the shots.

Usually you want to start on your best foot when starting off a tournament against the best team in the world - but not the Maple Volleys. Give Byron Keturakis his first start at setter? Sure! Jason DeRocco as libero? Why not? They even decided to throw Arthur Szwarc on for the opening serve - which isn’t as big of a shock given his play this summer, but still an interesting move.

And honestly? I’m all for it. This World Cup means absolutely nothing - so why not try some new things? And if you’re going to play 11 matches in 15 days - you’re going to have to reach into the bottom of the roster at some point, so why not start from the beginning and see if something sticks?

Well I guess time will tell, but it seems to me like we need to cook the spaghetti a little bit longer if it’s going to stay on the wall. Brazil out-hit Canada 43-31, out-served us 7-1, and limited their errors to just 13 while we put up 19.

After a first-set where the Maple Volleys looked like serving targets at times, they came out with a new energy right some the get-go in the second. They notched up the serving a degree or two, settled into their block-defence game, stopped spraying passes across the court, and were able to slow-things down a little and control the pace of play. It wasn’t like Brazil took their foot off the peddle and started making unforced errors either; Canada was playing some good ball and it seemed like they were building the momentum to tie things up and make it a three-set game.

Everything was looking good until Cuban-turned-Brazilian Leal went back to the baseline to crush a few serves like they were tables at a Buffalo Bills tailgate, shrinking the lead to 19-18, and the top team in the world never looked back, scoring at will to close out the set, and continuing on throughout the 3rd.

With all the tables crushed, Canada’s hitters had no where to eat, and the best anyone to muster was the 8 points scored by both Nick Hoag and Stephen Maar. Sharone Vernon-Evans kicked in a whopping 6 points, but the fact that he managed to hit .500 was achievement enough as the dishes he was getting weren’t anything to feast on.

For Keturakis, it was trail by fire. I doubt even he could have predicted that in his first start he would have to go toe-to-toe with arguably the greatest setter of all time, and to his credit, he didn’t step down from the challenge. But enthusiasm can only get you so far, and it was clear he’s got some work to do before he’s going to be a consistent member of the starting seven anytime soon. He did a lot of good things - picked up 4 points with a couple kills and a couple blocks, and was a solid presence from the baseline. But the weakest part of his game was the setting, and defensively he was doing his best James Harden impression at times. It’s clear he’s going to need some more time to mature a little, but if the first-half of the second set was any indication, he’s got the potential to do some damage at this level.

We also have to consider this was the first time Dan Lewis has been Head Coach for a match at any level. While we’re used to seeing his enthusiastic fist pumps from the bench - getting to stand is a much different beast. It was probably the most excited I’ve ever seen him in a match - as a coach or a player. He cheered enthusiastically for good pla

Do I think this is cause for concern and it’s time to hit the panic button? Definitely not. Someone once said you win or you learn - and their were a lot of lessons for the Maple Volleys in this one. If anything, it made the picture that much clearer of how much Brett Walsh has really come into his own, and how much of an impact Blair Bann has on this team. Luckily, when you start this poorly, the only way to go is up.

Next up is another big test - and I mean literally big as Russia has one of the tallest lineups around. Luckily this one will be at 1am ET / 10pm PT - so you’ve got a chance to watch!