Canada scores huge upset against medal favourites from Serbia at volleyball worlds

By Ted Graham in Trieste

TRIESTE, Italy - Ranked 20th in the world, Canada’s men’s volleyball team sent shockwaves through their pool tonight by upsetting heavily favoured Serbia (ranked #4 in the world) in a decisive 3-1 victory (25-20, 25-22, 17-25, 25-23) here at the World Championships in Italy.

The win gives Canada a 1-1 record, tying them for second with the Serbians in pool F. They can guarantee themselves a berth in the second round if they can knock off Germany (0-2) in their last pool play match against Germany tomorrow night. Poland leads the four teams in Pool F with a 2-0 record after defeating Germany 25-20, 21-25, 25-22, 22-25, 15-13.

Canada started strong against Serbia after a straight set loss in their previous match against Poland. Up two sets to zero after 53 minutes of play, the Canadians looked formidable against the nation that won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics plus bronze and silver at World League Championships in 2009 and 2010.

Team captain and middle hitter Louis-Pierre Mainville set the tone early, scoring the first three Canadian points in the match with two kills and one block. Having established that threat in the middle, setter Dustin Schneider was able to distribute the ball across all attackers and even managed to score himself, by stuffing the ball over on what appeared to be a Canadian overbump destined to become a free ball for Serbia.

“Middle didn’t work well for us last night, but tonight was the opposite,” said Mainville, a Montreal-area native. “We scored points early, which helped the outside hitters get one-on-one opportunities and put the ball away.” In the third set, Canada hit bump after a dip in confidence and a resurgent Serbian squad capitalized, taking a 10 point lead thanks to some veteran shot-making from Ivan Miljkovic.

“For a young team, this is a great result for us,” said head coach Glenn Hoag. “This will help the program move on from here no matter how we finish.”

Coach Hoag played all 12 available players including one of the younger members of the senior national team, 22-year old middle hitter Justin Duff, who contributed seven points in only two sets on the floor including a massive spike down the middle to win the match.

“I knew when I came in there wouldn’t be time to be nervous,” said Duff, who watched the previous night’s match from the stands because of 12 man roster limitations dictating how many players can be dressed for each match. “I was just hoping that they didn’t have too much game tape on me and that I could contribute.”

Said Serbia’s team captain and setter Grbic Nikola, “Canada earned that victory. They were exceptional passers and we had no answers for them.”

The team will have little downtime before their next test at 11am EST on Monday, when they will need to focus on keeping their level of play high throughout the last match; in the likely event of a tie between two teams, the decision system is reliant on total points scored throughout pool play.

“We need to celebrate this win, but we also need to focus on the next game,” added Mainville. “We need to have a good plan, but come to the game calm and ready to play like we did today.”

The match attracted a record crowd of 5,766 at the Palatrieste.

Canadian team roster for the 2010 FIVB Men’s World Volleyball Championships

Players: Dallas Soonias, Red Deer, Alta.; Adam Simac, Ottawa; Louis-Pierre Mainville, Notre-Dame de l’Isle, Que.; Dan Lewis, Oakville, Ont.; Nicolas Cundy, Edmonton; Toon Van Lankvelt, Rivers, Man.; Frederic Winters, Victoria; Gavin Schmitt, Saskatoon; Adam Kaminski, Chatham, Ont.; Dustin Schneider, Brandon, Man.; Josh Howatson, Victoria; Olivier Faucher of Plessisville, Que.; Gord Perrin, Creston, B.C.; Justin Duff, Winnipeg.

Head coach: Glenn Hoag, Gatineau, Que. Assistant coach:
Vincent Pichette, Gatineau
Team manager: Julien Boucher, Quebec City