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World Cup: Maple Volleys Grind Out Win Against Tunisia

Team Canada has increased their win streak to 3 games and improve to 3-3 at the 2019 FIVB World Cup in Japan after a 3-2 (25-20, 20-25, 29-27, 20-25, 15-12) win over Tunisia in Hiroshima.

Opposite Sharone Vernon-Evans had his best match since his ankle injury this summer, going 18-for-34 for 23 points on the nigh, while Lucas Van Berkel came just short of the rare volleyball double-double; going 9-for-13 and adding 9 blocks for 18 points.

Tunisia was a handful all night long. They were better offensively (64 kills vs. 60) kills, better from the baseline (12 aces vs. 7 aces), made more digs (60 digs vs. 37 digs), and made less errors (22 errors vs. 26 errors), while opposite Hamza Nagga went off for 30 points.

The big reason Canada was able to come away with the win was their blocking - making 20 blocks on the night, the majority coming during crucial moments at the end of sets.

In the 3rd they went from being up 5-2 to being down 14-8 real quick, which is around the point they brought in for Stephen Maar for Ryley Barnes; they had to find a secondary option as Sharone Vernon-Evans was the only one putting the ball away. It took the Aurora, Ontario native a little to warm-up, but once he did, Marr started crushing balls. Tunisia had no choice but to wait and couldn’t overload on Sharone anymore. The Maple Volleys had to fight off multiple set points, starting at 22-24, but they managed to find three big blocks to pull it back and steal the set at 29-27.

Setter Brett Walsh injured his ankle mid-way through the 1st set against Tunisia and will be out for the remainder of the tournament Photo: FIVB

Setter Brett Walsh injured his ankle mid-way through the 1st set against Tunisia and will be out for the remainder of the tournament Photo: FIVB

Despite the win, this match really showed some of Canada’s biggest weakness, starting first and foremost with the serve receive. Tunisia exposed how vulnerable we are in the seams, and took advantage in aces and free balls.

The North Africans were in system a lot - not only because Canada’s serve receive was abysmal and they can pass free balls real well, but also because the Maple Volleys were serving up some real good muffins for Tunisia to feast on.

Byron Keturakis was the only one to really go at it from the baseline, and he was rewarded with 4 aces, but other than that, it was 5 guys float serving.

Although to that I will say that the serving was also a huge part of their success in blocking - often times trapping Tunisia into situations where they had to choice but to swing against the double or triple blocks. So at least if they’re not putting on pressure with speed and power, they’re doing so tactically; but it would be nice to see at least one other guy go back and being able to take a serious chew from the baseline.

Canada continues to make 20+ errors per match - although last night’s 26 is marginally better than the 29 we’ve made in others. A large part of these errors come from the baseline; which just compounds the first-touch woes, but a large chunk come from the offence.

The most glaring reason for this has to be the lack of quality passing, but the consistency of the setting has to be brought into question as well. To be fair, Keturakis probably wasn’t expecting to be playing this match until Walsh got injured. Not to mention, the former UBC Thunderbird was 5th on the depth chart at the beginning of the summer; Adam Schreimer was the backup to Walsh all summer long at the VNL, and would probably be the guy had he not decided to retire.

Keturakis is going through a huge learning curve right now, and it’s compounded by the fact that a majority of the pillars around him are also learning.

All in all, his play has been very impressive, and continues to get better. He’s shown to be a complete player and isn’t going to play scared, not shying away from going against some of the world’s best. But the most important thing for a setter to do is to put the ball where his hitter wants it - and that part is going to take a little work.

Sharone Vernon-Evans had his biggest night of the tournament, leading Canada with 23 points. Photo: FIVB

Sharone Vernon-Evans had his biggest night of the tournament, leading Canada with 23 points. Photo: FIVB

This match really showed the progression of Sharone Vernon-Evans. This was the first time we’ve seen him dominate pretty much on his own. The 21-year old was able to carry the team at times offensively when he was the only real option to put the ball away. And going 18-for-34 is very impressive given some of the looks he was getting. He was able to do a lot with very little, scoring in ways you wouldn’t usually expect.

And as I mentioned in my podcast yesterday, Sharone brings a lot more to the table than just his offence. He sets up the block exceptionally well allowing the middles to close the block firmly, and goes up patiently; not reaching or chasing and penetrating real clean. He makes digs, he chases down balls, he sets out of system; he does all the little things you wouldn’t expect from a guy who’s 6’9, let alone a 21-year old.

Despite all the holes in their game, Canada still managed to come away with their third-straight win. They say you either win or you learn, but I think there was a lot of learning to win for the Maple Volleys tonight. They had a much better understanding of what moments were crucial, and made plays when they needed too.

To use an old hockey cliché - it was definitely a character win for the boys.

You can catch them again tonight at 10:00 pm ET / 7:00 pm PT when they have a rematch against Argentina. Sure, it’s not the guys who were on the roster in August; but it would still feel damn good to beat them.

If you’re in Canada, or know how to use a VPN, you can watch that match live on the World Cup Homepage.