Canada heads to semis at World University Games

SHENZHEN, China (CIS) – The Canadian men’s volleyball team booked its ticket to the semifinals at the 26th Summer Universiade thanks to a come-from-behind, four-set win over South Korea on Friday afternoon at the Shenzhen Gymnasium.

STATISTICS: http://match.sz2011.org/pdf/VB/VBM001301/VBM001301.C73.ENG.1.0.pdf

After finishing atop the Pool A standings with a perfect 4-0 record, the Canadians downed their South Korean rivals 22-25, 25-23, 25-16, 25-21 to reach the Final Four for the third time in history. Still looking for its first Universiade title in men’s volleyball, Canada is 2-0 all-time in the semifinals, having reached the title match in 2007 in Bangkok and in 1983 in Edmonton. 

In Saturday’s second semifinal at 8 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET), Canada will face either the Ukraine (3-1) or the Czech Republic (5-0), who square off in the last quarter-final on Friday night.

At the last Universiade in 2009 in Belgrade, Serbia, Canada lost a heartbreaker to Russia in the quarter-finals after holding a two-sets-to-none lead. The Russians went on to capture gold, while Canada settled for sixth place.

The Canadians entered today’s contest having lost only one set in four pool matches, but found themselves down a set and trailing 22-19 in the second against an athletic South Korean side. 

“I can’t lie about the set… I thought we were losing the second set and somehow the guys on the floor found a way to pull it out,” said Team Canada’s and University of Winnipeg head coach Larry McKay. “It was a total effort with guys making great individual plays and executing well after the first.”

The first set was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams showing off their impressive skills on both offence and defence. In the latter stages, South Korea (3-2) won two crucial points on a block and a dink over Canada’s block to move to 21-17, and held on for a 25-22 result. 

The turning point occurred when Team Canada captured the second set.

Behind for the first time in the tournament, and trailing 22-19 in the second frame, it was now or never for Canada as the set looked to be slipping away. 

The comeback started when left side Karl De Grandpré of Pierreville, Que., made a backcourt kill. Then, right side Spencer Leiske of Lacombe, Alta., (in photo)  made a block followed by a hit by middle Graham Vigrass from Calgary and all of a sudden the set was all tied up. After the Koreans grabbed a point, they were called on over the net on a kill attempt, hit long on another hit, and then a huge block by Leiske and setter Ciaran McGovern from Grande Prairie, Alta., secured the second set.

In the third, Canada motored to 8-4 and 16-10 leads at the breaks and continued to pound the Koreans from both sides, with De Grandpré, Leiske and Vigrass doing the damage along with timely one-man blocks by McGovern. The Red and White opened up a massive margin and walked away with a 25-16 third set win. 

In the fourth, Korea opened up quickly to 6-4 but De Grandpré served two service aces and Canada notched five unanswered points to take a lead. Korea battled back to tie at 13 before the Canadians reached the second technical up 16-14. Canada continued as team captain and middle Rudy Verhoeff of Calgary had a huge block then middle hit for 24-20. Canada sealed the victory when Verhoeff pounded the ball for the final kill.

“We had confidence and thought we were never out of the second set,” said McGovern. “The Koreans pushed us and we stayed patience and attacked throughout the match.” 

Leiske led the Canadian side with 19 kills and five blocks, followed by De Grandpré with 15 kills and two service aces. Vigrass had 10 kills, while McGovern added 61 assists in the four-setter.

For South Korea, Jaeduck Seo entered the game as the Universiade kill leader but was neutralized with only eight on the afternoon.