Alexa Gray shines for Canada in Volleyball Nations League opening loss to Poland
Calgary native tops all players with 37 points; Canadians face Thailand on Thursday
One match into a fourth Volleyball Nations League season, it is clear Canada's women have plenty of room for improvement. It's also evident head coach Shannon Winzer has a go-to player to fill in for absent offensive force Kiera Van Ryk.
Outside hitter Alexa Gray topped all players with 37 points (36 attack, one block) in Tuesday's 3-2 loss in sets to Poland in Antalya, Turkey. The 28-year-old from Calgary came up big on several occasions but needed more support offensively from her teammates.
Fellow outside hitter Hilary Howe was the only other Canadian to reach double digits with 15 points, followed by Vicky Savard and Langley, B.C. setter Brie King with seven apiece.
Poland had four players with at least 10 points, including team leader Magdalena Stysiak with 20. Martyna Czyrnianska, who added five points, ended the two-hour 30-minute match with an ace at the 10,000-seat Antalya Sports Hall.
Canada next plays on Thursday against 0-1 Thailand (CBCSports.ca, 7 a.m. ET). Thailand lost in five sets on Tuesday to Italy, the defending VNL champions.
WATCH | Poland pulls out 5-set win over Canada to open VNL season:
Last October, Canada dropped a 3-2 decision to host Poland in Phase 2 of the FIVB world championship. Van Ryk, who led Canada with 21 points, and her teammates ended their tourney on a high note with a 3-2 victory over the Dominican Republic.
The 24-year-old native of New Westminster, B.C, is away from the team for personal reasons, but is expected to return later in the competition. Van Ryk was eighth overall in offence last season in the VNL and top server with 20 aces.
Her presence in Tuesday's match would have been huge as the heavy-hitting player probably would have helped an inconsistent Canada outfit from blowing several leads and poor service play at crucial times.
The Canadians prevailed 68-63 on the attack, but were outblocked and outserved.
Canada erases 7-2 deficit
In the deciding set, a Stysiak ace made it 6-2 Poland, a lead it would hold until a Gray kill for her 36th point evened matters at 12-12. She also tied it 13-13 with a cross-court attack, but Poland scored the next two points for the victory.
Canada trailed 7-2 in the opening set and slowly battled back, making it 10-10 on a Gray kill. She also sent the ball deep to the middle of the court to open a 14-11 lead.
However, Poland closed the gap to 21-20 before the Canadians scored the final four points, highlighted by a Emily Maglio/Howe block and soft tip shot by Gray at set point.
With Canada leading 11-9 in the second set, Poland went on a 7-1 run for an 18-10 advantage it wouldn't relinquish.
VNL season springboard to Paris Olympics
In set three, the Canadians blew a 7-1 lead but recovered for a 25-20 win before coughing up a four-point advantage in the fourth set. Two service errors late allowed Poland to pull ahead for good.
This is the most pivotal VNL campaign for the Canadian women. It's the start of Olympic qualifying season and the squad wants to use the 16-team competition as a springboard to Paris 2024.
Winzer announced her 14-player roster last week ahead of the first leg of competition in Turkey. The second and third legs will be contested in Hong Kong and Bangkok.
The women's finals will be held July 12-16 in Arlington, Texas.
WATCH: Canada's women ready for another memorable run:
Canada, currently ranked No. 14 in the world, finished with a 4-8 record last year, 12th in the overall standings. Italy was the overall women's winner in 2022, followed by Brazil and Serbia.
The biggest moment coming up is the Sept. 16-24 Olympic qualifying tournament in China, where six of the 12 teams competing at Paris 2024 will be decided. Should Canada not qualify, it will have another shot based on world ranking.
CBC Sports and CBC Gem will have all of Canada's 12 Volleyball Nations League games streamed live and CBC Sports Presents will have select games on the main CBC network beginning June 4.
WATCH | Full coverage of Canada/Poland match:
- No. 4 — Vicky Savard, Jonquière, Que.
- No. 5 — Julia Murmann, Toronto
- No. 6 — Jazmine White, Oshawa, Ont.
- No. 7 — Layne Van Buskirk, Windsor, Ont.
- No. 9 — Alexa Gray, Calgary
- No. 11 — Andrea Mitrovic, Mississauga, Ont.
- No. 12 — Jennifer Cross, Scarborough, Ont.
- No. 13 — Brie King, Langley, B.C.
- No. 14 — Hilary Howe, Calgary
- No. 15 — Shaïnah Joseph, Ottawa, Ont.
- No. 16 — Caroline Livingston, Kelowna, B.C.
- No. 17 — Kacey Jost. St. Albert, Alta.
- No. 18 — Kim Robitaille, Repentigny, Que.
- No. 19 — Emily Maglio, Coquitlam, B.C.
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With files from Signa Butler, CBC Sports