Canadians giant killers in World League volleyball

volleyballMAR DEL PLATA, Argentina – Canada’s national men’s volleyball team produced one of the biggest victories in its history Thursday (July 18) upsetting Olympic champion Russia in five sets in its opening match in the FIVB World League Final.

“I’m very happy with the win, it’s a big step for us to come here,’’ said Canada’s head coach Glenn Hoag of Sherbrooke, Que. ‘’Our program has evolved in the last six years and this is a great accomplishment.

‘’The guys are confident about competing against any team, they’re not scared of anybody, they have faith in the system we play with.’’

The Canadians overcame a 0-2 deficit in sets to take the match 20-25, 21-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-11. To give an idea of the enormity of the upset, Canada is ranked 18th in the world and Russia second. The Russians were playing their 73rd World League Final match while Canada was playing its first.

“In the third and fourth sets they gave us opportunities, made more mistakes, they weren’t serving as hard,’’ said Canadian team captain Fred Winters of Victoria. ‘’The pressure was on them. They had to beat us. We just played great in the last three sets.’’

Gord Perrin of Creston, B.C., led the Canadian attack with 20 points, Gavin Schmitt of Saskatoon, who missed the last five matches due to a leg injury, added 13 and Winters chipped in 11.

Despite dropping the first two sets the Canadians seemed to be improving and by the end of the third Schmitt, Perrin and Winters gave as good as they got and soon the underdogs held a 22-20 lead. Russia successfully challenged a spike in to make it 22-21 but Schmitt was Canada’s go to man with a cross court spike before Winters finished a terrific rally with his own attack to seal Canada’s first ever set win against Russia in the modern scoring era.

In the fourth, the oldest player at the World League Finals, Canadian libero Daniel Lewis, 37, of Oakville, ON, along with Winters defended like demons at the back court and the Russians were unable to break down the Canadian block and Canada soon snatched a second set win after a Russian spike went disappointingly into the net.

In the fifth, Russia went up 7-3 but Canada just wasn’t going to give up. They slowly pulled it back to 7-7 thanks to blocks by Adam Simac of Ottawa, who also baffled the Russians all night with his floating serves, and Graham Vigrass of Calgary before some great serving from Rudy Verhoeff of Calgary put Russia under severe pressure.

An ace, a wide spike and a bad reception by Russia, and a Simac block gave Canada match point 14-10 on Verhoeff’s serve. Russia saved one match point before Joshua Howatson of Victoria blocked the final point for the historic celebrations to begin.

“I think Russia might have been confident leading 7-2 in the fifth set,’’ said Hoag. ‘’I got mad at the guys because we were all over the place in that fifth set at the beginning. I said ‘One pass, one set, everybody execute technically well,’ and they did that.”

The Canadians reached the final by placing first in group C during the preliminary round with a record of eight wins and two losses. They have now won seven straight matches with Thursday’s win.

In the Pool E World League Final standings, Russia (1-1) is first with three points, Canada (1-0) second with two and Brazil (0-1) third at 1 point. In five set matches the winning team gets two points and the loser one. Russia beat Brazil in five on Wednesday.

In Pool D, Bulgaria (1-0) is first with three points while Argentina (0-1) and Italy (0-0) have no points.

More than $5.7 million is up for grabs in the 24th edition of the intercontinental tournament.