Canadian women bring perspective, experience into 2nd Volleyball Nations League season
Team aims to use top competition as springboard to 2024 Olympic appearance
There were many lessons learned in the Canadian women's first-ever forage in the prestigious Volleyball Nations League (VNL) last season. Now the young squad is ready for year No. 2.
Head coach Shannon Winzer announced her 14-player roster Tuesday ahead of the first leg of competition this week in Shreveport-Bossier City, La., which runs through Sunday.
Canada will play Poland, the Dominican Republic, Olympic champion United States and Korea then head to the Philippines for the second leg before returning to Canada for the third leg from June 28 to July 3 just outside of Calgary at the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex, Tsuut'ina Nation.
Outside of the Olympics and world championships, which take place this fall in the Netherlands, Volleyball Nations League is the top international competition in the sport. Of the 16 teams, 12 are core nations plus four challengers, of which Canada is one. The last-place challenger team will be relegated and have to compete in the 2022 Women's Challenger Cup in Croatia to earn their spot back.
Canada, ranked No. 18 in the world, finished with a 3-12 record last year, which was held in a bubble in Rimini, Italy. The U.S. were the overall women's winner in 2021, followed by Brazil and Japan.
WATCH | Canada beats Serbia in 2021 VNL action:
Aiming for 2024 Olympics
The biggest lesson from their first-ever appearance in VNL was perspective, Winzer said on a recent call with CBC Sports.
"We really did a good job of knowing that we're going to make mistakes. It's a learning curve. I think we did a really good job of doing the simple things well, but when we weren't always able to do the big things we're like, 'That's where we are,' and next year we're going to make less of those mistakes.
"Our goal is the Olympics in 2024 and then 2028 and we're going to be realistic on where we are on our journey and not get down on the things we can't control and the things that need to happen before the next thing can happen. We did an excellent job of that."
The Canadian women's volleyball team hasn't made an Olympic Games since Atlanta in 1996.
Canada's big goals this season are to stay in VNL and to make the second round of the world championships. With Olympic qualifying beginning in the fall of 2023, Winzer feels they need to consistently play top-flight competition in order to improve.
"Only 12 teams in the world go [to the Olympics] and we're ranked No. 18. These big tournaments are not just important for us because of ranking points, but this is the second summer we're going to play 12 games against the best teams in the world. Last year we played 15 games against the best teams in the world. You're going to improve."
WATCH | Canada falls to Belgium at 2021 VNL:
Van Ryk, Gray lead charge
The current squad is young, with an average age of 24. Many of the team's players have only played professionally for two or three years and some are still in university. Winzer sees that as an advantage.
"We're young and with that, there's a certain kind of fearlessness, which is super exciting to coach."
The Canadian roster features players from last year's VNL roster, with a couple of new faces.
Leading the charge will be standout outside hitter Kiera Van Ryk, who was sixth in tournament scoring last season. The six-foot-one native of Surrey, B.C., who won the 2019 U Sports title with the UBC Thunderbirds, is coming off a successful pro season in Turkey.
Also enjoying a strong season professionally in Italy with Busto is Calgary's Alexa Gray. A former all-American with Brigham Young University, Gray some injury troubles last season in VNL but is fit and provides versatility in attack.
All 2022 VNL matches will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Select games will also appear on CBC TV, including Saturday against Olympic champion U.S. at 4 p.m. ET.
The Canadian men's roster will be released before the team kicks off its campaign on June 7 in Ottawa.
Full women's roster
- Brie King, Surrey, B.C.;
- Courtney Baker, Bridgewater, N.S.;
- Jennifer Cross (captain), Scarborough, Ont.;
- Emily Maglio, Coquitlam, B.C.;
- Jazmine White, Oshawa, Ont.;
- Allyssah Fitterer, Georgetown, Ont.;
- Hilary Howe, Calgary, Alta.;
- Andrea Mitrovic, Mississauga, Ont.;
- Alexa Gray, Calgary;
- Caroline Livingston, Kelowna, B.C.;
- Kiera Van Ryk, Surrey;
- Sydney Grills, Vancouver;
- Kat Georgiadis, Scarborough;
- Julia Murmann, Toronto.