Having already met the challenge of qualifying for Rio, Canada’s men’s volleyball team is now getting ready for its biggest challenge in a generation.
Earlier this month, the team earned Canada’s first Olympic berth in men’s volleyball since Barcelona 1992, fighting their way through a last-chance qualification tournament. But there’s no rest for the weary, as the Canadian team now finds itself fully entrenched in FIVB World League play.
“Unfortunately we have to use the World League as a preparation period (for Rio),” says head coach Glenn Hoag. “Teams that qualified earlier in the year already had loading phases.
“We have to use this competition to maintain our level of play, but mostly to load the bodies in preparation for the Games.”
Hoag, who competed for the Canadian team that finished fourth at Los Angeles 1984, is now tasked with not only maintaining his team’s fitness levels in the weeks leading up to Rio, but also selecting the 12 players who’ll make the final Olympic roster.
“This will be very hard for me, since most players that are competing for these positions were all a big part of our success.”
Canada, ranked No. 10 in the world, finds itself in a tricky Olympic group that includes top-ranked Brazil as well as Italy (No. 4), United States (No. 5), France (who share the No. 10 spot with Canada) and Mexico (No. 24). The Canadians’ first game is on Aug. 7, with group-stage games every two days thereafter.
The key to competing in Rio, according to Hoag, is for his team to stick to the disciplined approach that has helped them climb back into global contention in recent years.
“We have to prepare for each match and play our game,” he says. “We can challenge all these teams, but we can only do this by playing our volleyball. We will be ready to ‘brawl’.”
That fighting spirit is all part of a long-term plan from Volleyball Canada that put the men’s team back in a position to shine on the Olympic stage. And Hoag, who has seen the sport grow and evolve immensely over the past few decades, believes this might just be the start.
“We have very talented athletes coming up and challenging for positions,” he says. “We have to keep our focus on building our athletes to become high-level players and we cannot, at any time, become complacent.”