It’s official: Canada is a volleyball nation.
Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of a premature pronouncement. But the opening weekend of Rio 2016 has certainly been an encouraging one for Canadian volleyball, both indoors and outdoors.
On Sunday, in their first Olympic match since 1992, the men’s team made a powerful statement in notching a straight-sets victory (25-23, 25-17, 25-23) over the United States, the reigning FIVB Volleyball World Cup champions.
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“We knew that we were the underdog in this pool and in this match,” said team captain Fred Winters. “But it’s the Olympic Games, and I think our team is highly motivated and it showed on the court today.”
Things get even tougher from here, as Canada’s next match is against the No. 1-ranked Brazil on Tuesday. But head coach Glenn Hoag believes his team is ready to put up a valiant effort against the host nation.
“The message now is to stay focused,” he said. “We need to go out and execute—but fight, always fight.”
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Earlier on Sunday, Canada’s top-ranked beach volleyball duo of Sarah Pavan and Heather Bansley also won their Olympic opener in straight sets (21-15, 21-17) over Jantine van der Vlist and Sophie van Gestel of the Netherlands.
“To come out with a win is exactly what we wanted,” said Bansley. “We had a lot of nerves and a lot of excitement, so it feels good to get that under our belt.”
Pavan and Bansley aren’t the only Canadians competing in the sands of Copacabana Beach. For the first time, Canada was able to send the maximum allotment of four beach volleyball teams to the Games.
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Canada’s other two beach teams—Ben Saxton/Chaim Schalk and Jamie Broder/Kristina Valjas—made their Olympic debuts on Sunday night, with the men’s team losing while the women pulled out a three set victory.
In fact, 19 of the 20 Canadian volleyball players in Rio (eight on the beach, 12 on the court) are first-time Olympians, with Binstock being the only exception (he competed at London 2012).
RELATED: Broder & Valjas win Olympic debut
Experienced or not, these athletes are showing the nation what Canadian volleyball is all about. The words of wisdom offered by Hoag might be a bit of a clue as to where the players’ confidence is coming from.
“No matter what,” he said, “go out there and be proud of what you did, win or lose.”