Canadian men's volleyball team moves closer to Olympic berth
Canada will qualify for Olympics with win against Cuba on Sunday
The Canadian men's volleyball team has Olympic qualification in sight. But they're not thinking about that just yet.
Canada (2-0) defeated Puerto Rico 25-16, 25-22, 25-23 on Saturday — its second straight-sets victory at the 2016 NORCECA Olympic qualifying event at the Saville Community Sports Centre — to move within a match of securing a berth at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.
All Canada has to do qualify for Rio is beat Cuba on Sunday by any margin.
The tournament rewards teams that don't drop sets. With the Canadians undefeated, they've earned the maximum 10 points and avoid complications involving margin of victory for their next game.
"I'm trying not to think about it," said Gord Perrin, who led Canada on Saturday with 14 points, including some thundering spikes from the back row of the attack. "I'm trying to think about one volleyball game and trying to play as good as I can and if I do that I think we're going to make it."
Added Canadian head coach Glenn Hoag: "We did pretty good today. There was much more pressure from their side. Now we just need to play one last match and one good match to earn our spot for Rio, but it's not going to be easy."
Canada, ranked No. 10 in the world, defeated Mexico on Friday night. Puerto Rico is ranked No. 24.
Four years ago, Canada was in a similar position, needing a win over the United States to book a spot at the London Olympics, but lost in straight sets.
Learning experience will help
Hoag was in charge then and feels that learning experience will help him and his team on Sunday.
"I remember that we were a little overexcited," he said. "We were playing good first set and we made a couple key mistakes at the end. We've got to bring it down to a point at a time and that's what we did tonight in the last two sets and we've got to maintain this until the game's over."
Canada thrilled the packed house on the south campus of the University of Alberta by taking an early four-point lead in the first set. But Puerto Rico pulled to within one before the Canadians cemented the victory on consecutive service aces from setter Tyler Sanders.
As the setter, Sanders normally assists his taller opponents on their powerful spikes but he was feeling it behind the service line and earned a massive reception from the partisan support as he closed out the first set.
"The adrenaline was running pretty good," Sanders said. "The crowd started clapping and everything started happening.
"I was having a good serving game so I thought I may as well start going for it and be aggressive and it worked out."
Stroke of good fortune
The second set, as was the case Friday against Mexico, was an interesting affair that saw Canada benefit from a stroke of good fortune late. Puerto Rico held a two-point advantage after the second technical timeout and led 19-17 before the Canadians sorted things out.
Canada trailed 22-21 when it called a timeout and game officials rectified a scoring error and took a point off Puerto Rico's total. The Canadians went on to win the set when a Puerto Rican kill attempt went long.
"It was big," Perrin said of the importance of the second set. "If you give those guys life, they play really well. I've seen them play when they're free and they start bombing serves so if you give a team like that one set, they have a ton of confidence and you're in trouble."
The third set was another roller-coaster affair with a number of late lead changes and tie scores. But Canada earned points off big blocks late before securing the victory when Puerto Rico's Sequiel Sanchez put a serve into the net.