By Chris Johns
Canada’s national men’s volleyball team had an Olympic berth in their grasp before losing to the US 3-0 (25-20, 30-28, 25-21) at the Continental Cup tournament in Winnipeg.
Team Canada finished the round-robin part of the event undefeated, including a dominating performance over the US in the opening match. They bombed the Americans 3-0 and cruised through the next two matches with victories over Puerto Rico and Mexico. But in the finals, Canada missed just about every other serve and the us picked up their game. The disappointment was evident on the face of each Team Canada player.
"I am obviously very disappointed," said Canada’s head coach Garth Piscke. "I am sure I will be much more disappointed tomorrow. We had a very weak serving game and we didn’t put the us in any sort of trouble. We found it very hard to score points when we were serving. That was the difference."
In the first set, Canada had just tied the score at 7-7 on a huge triple block and former University of Alberta Golden Bear Murray Grapentine went back to serve. It went straight into the net. It was the first of many times when Canada had the chance to take the lead when they were serving and came up short.
Former UBC star Ross Ballard, a recent addition to the team, felt that Canada didn’t get any breaks.
"It was really, really strange," said Ballard. "At the beginning of every set, we had opportunities and the bounces just didn’t go our way. It was almost an exact inverse of the match the other night. We wanted to use the crowd to our advantage. We are sad because we weren’t able to give them what everyone here wanted. It is disappointing for us because we had an excellent opportunity against this American team. We just didn’t make the breaks that we needed to make."
The US is a talented team with size and power at all positions. The combination that worked best was 6’8" setter and captain Lloy Ball and 6’7" right side hitter George Roumain; they killed Canada almost single-handedly with Roumain scoring 15 kills and 4 blocks. Roumain is a monster, weighing 255 lbs and bearing an uncanny resemblance to André the Giant.
"It pretty much works out that only George can stop George. Other teams don’t stop him," Ball said.
Canada had a chance to get back in the match in the second set. They escaped 5 set points with stellar side-out play but couldn’t put a serve in the court. Roumain put the dagger in Canada’s heart with one kill and the Americans escaped 30-28.
"That second set was the turning point," said Ballard. "If we were able to pull [it] out, put the pressure back on them and we could just play loose and take it to them. When you are taking that many extra points to win the set, that was huge. We just weren’t able to do it."
Canada’s Olympic dreams are not dashed entirely. They will compete in the World League this summer and will be invited to one of the wild card tournaments in July. The winner of the tournament in either France, Greece or Portugal will go to the Sydney Olympics.
"We don’t know what the second tournament is going to be like," said former Mount Royal College Setter Kent Graves. "We know it is going to be difficult no matter what. All the teams are going to be fighting for that spot so anything could happen. Today was the day and we didn’t come through."
Team Canada never seems to take the easy way, but maybe all the adversity is character building; they are one of the best teams in the world who haven’t qualified. Maybe if Canada makes it to the Olympic Games, they will have another chance to beat The Giant.