Feature Photo: Cuba’s Osmany Santiago Uriarte Mestre hits the ball against Canada during a decisive NORCECA Olympic qualifying match on January 10, 2016.
Canada’s best chance to cheer on an Olympic volleyball team since 1996 has been put on hold after Cuba triumphed in Edmonton in straight sets on Sunday night.
Beating Canada 25-15, 25-21, 25-21, Cuba secured an automatic regional (NORCECA) spot for Rio 2016 men’s volleyball, joining United States, Russia, Italy, Argentina and host nation Brazil as qualified entrants.
By finishing in second place, Canada advances to a last chance tournament in Japan to be held this spring, from which three non-Asian countries can emerge and take part in the 12-nation Olympic tournament.
Not since 1992 has a Canadian men’s team played Olympic volleyball. Any Canadian volleyball at an Olympic Games last took place in Atlanta 1996, where the women’s team took the court.
On Sunday, errors hurt Canada tremendously as they failed to cope with Cuba’s serves and the dominant presence of Rolando Cepeda who seemed to be everywhere on the floor delivering 21 points, including five aces.
“They started by putting a lot of pressure on us with their serve, and we had to stay with them but we made crucial hitting errors at the beginning of the match,” head coach Glenn Hoag said of his Canadian squad, which had to play “catch up” for much of the night. “At this level, you just can’t do that. Our side out game just wasn’t going tonight. Cuba has weaknesses and we can exploit them, but tonight we made too many mistakes.”
Canada captain Fred Winters said “we have to forget about this one as quick as we can, go back to our club teams, finish strong and then regroup for another run at Rio.”
The tournament in Japan will feature powerhouse men’s volleyball countries such as world number two Poland, no. 8 Iran, France (tied with Canada for no. 10), Australia (no. 13) and the host nation Japan (no. 14). By comparison, Cuba was the 15th ranked nation by the sport’s governing body, FIVB, as per its October 2015 table.
Canada completed its penultimate step to book an Olympic men’s volleyball spot for Rio 2016, beating Puerto Rico in straight sets on Saturday.
In front of the home crowd in Edmonton Canada won 25-16, 25-22, 25-23 to improve to two wins in as many days, taking all six sets in its matches.
On Friday Canada defeated Mexico in straight sets (more on this below). With maximum points from two matches Canada will play Cuba – which has an identical record – on Sunday. Following Canada’s win over Puerto Rico, Cuba downed Mexico in three sets.
Gord Perrin was Canada’s leading scorer for the second straight match with 14 points. The Canadians – ranked 10th in the world – are playing without their best offensive player, Gavin Schmitt, who is out with stress fractures on his right leg.
The winner of the Canada-Cuba encounter will take the Olympic qualification spot available from this tournament. The losing team, along with the winner of the Puerto Rico versus Mexico match on Sunday will move on to last chance tournaments this spring. The matches on Sunday begin at 7 p.m. ET with the final going two hours later, all streamed live on CBC.
The Olympic dream ended for Canada’s women’s team after it lost a third place match to Puerto Rico in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday night.
The first set went long with the teams trading points before Puerto Rico prevailed 32-30. Canada never recovered from falling behind losing the next two sets 25-17 and 25-20.
The United States claimed the automatic Rio 2016 berth by winning the regional NORCECA tournament, while Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico advance to last chance tournaments.
Canada’s bid for a men’s Olympic volleyball spot this weekend is off to an ideal start after a straight sets victory over Mexico on Friday night in Edmonton.
With Gord Perrin contributing 15 points, Canada shut down the visitors 25-19, 25-23, 25-16 to win the first of three matches likely required to book a place at Rio 2016.
The win put Canada atop the round robin standings with three points, same as Cuba, which beat Puerto Rico in three sets in what was a much closer contest. On Saturday, Canada takes on Puerto Rico while Cuba plays Mexico.
If all goes according to plan, Canada’s final match on Sunday against Cuba is expected to determine which of these four countries will advance to the Olympic Games from this regional (NORCECA) qualifier.
CBC will have a live stream of the men’s qualification match against Puerto Rico on Saturday starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Some 2,300 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, Canada’s women’s team hasn’t fared so well in its NORCECA Olympic qualification tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska, losing the first two matches to United States and Dominican Republic.
All is not lost, however, as a win over Puerto Rico on Saturday would take Canada to third and keep Olympic qualification hopes alive via a last chance tournament this spring.
Currently, Puerto Rico sits ahead of Canada in women’s standings by a single point, but a three or four sets victory for Canada would see it pull ahead and stay on course to Rio.