Canada solid in men's volleyball opener at Universiade

SHENZHEN, China (CIS) – Despite being nervous out of the gate and some struggles in the second set, the Canadian men’s volleyball team disposed of Switzerland 3-1 (25-13, 16-25, 25-17, 25-10) Saturday night in its first match of Group A at the 26th Summer Universiade. 

STATISTICS: CAN-SUI

“We didn’t excel in any particular aspect of the game, but we played well as a group overall,” said Team Canada head coach Larry McKay. “It’s a good start, and we can build on this performance as we move forward in the tournament. 

“We didn’t know quite what to expect because we had absolutely no information on them, therefore it was a good test and we are very happy to have a win in the bank tonight,” added team captain Rudy Verhoeff of Calgary.

The team in black and red came out on fire in the first set, opening up an 8-4 advantage and leading 16-8 at the second break. Victoria native Marc Howatson was particularly stellar on the block and from the service line, as Canada controlled the rest of the action to win the first set 25-13. 

Switzerland responded in the second frame however with a renewed energy, as the Canadians fell behind 16-11 and 22-13. McKay made two substitutions at this point, but it was too late to salvage the set, as the Suisse prevailed 25-16.

In the third, the Canadians jumped out to 8-4 and 16-9 advantages at both breaks, and at 22-16, Laval University star Karl De Grandpré of Pierreville, Que., put the set out of reach with two consecutive aces, as Canada ultimately closed it out 25-17. 

By that point, with the will of the Swiss broken, the final stanza was a mere formality. Up 18-10, McKay’s troops rattled off the final seven points of the set to conclude the match.

“We were strong in all aspects of the game,” commented De Grandpré, who finished the game with 11 kills. “If we execute well, we can go far in this tournament.” 

Spencer Leiske, a native of Lacombe, Alta., tied de Granpré for the team lead with 11 kills. Howatson and Verhoeff each finished with three blocks.

On Sunday, the Canadians (1-0) will be back on the court when they challenge the host team from China (1-1) at 8 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET). 

“We expect a crazy atmosphere, and as a team we are really excited about [playing China],” said Verhoeff, a member of the reigning CIS champion Trinity Western University Spartans. “The Chinese are going to play their traditional fast offensive style, but we will be ready.”

“Playing the host team at an international competition of this caliber is always a test,” added McKay. “It will be the experience of a lifetime for our players.”