Canada aims for spot in World League Finals

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Canada coach Glenn Hoag expressed optimism on Friday about his team’s chances to qualify for the World League Finals ahead of this weekend’s Group C matches against Japan.

“We’re still in the race for first place,” he noted. “But our fate is not in our hands. We need to focus on playing Japan and improving our volleyball.”

Canada still has a shot at advancing to the finals in Mar del Plata, Argentina, later this month. The Canadians (6-2) are currently second in Group C with 18 points, just one point behind leader the Netherlands. They have won four straight matches, including sweeps of South Korea and Finland the past two weeks.

Only one team from Group C advances. The Netherlands is scheduled to take on Finland on Friday and Saturday.

Japan (3-5) is fifth in Group C with eight points after splitting with Portugal last weekend and will be playing just for pride this weekend.

Though his team is out of the running, Japan coach Gary Sato, the first foreign-born man to lead the national team, pointed out that a last-place finish in the group could be disastrous.

“We’re in a position where victories are important for us as well,” he stated. “We need to not finish last or we face the possibility of being eliminated from the World League. Our plan is to play our best and to improve.”

Canada is paced by John Gordon Perrin, who has tallied 86 points this season. The team has played the past several matches without star Gavin Schmitt, who remains sidelined with a lower body injury.

“We have been playing good lately,” said Hoag. “We have been playing well as a group. We have been good on block defense and also receiving well. We are keeping our errors low.”

Tatsuya Fukuzawa leads Japan with 149 points, making him the fifth-highest scorer during the campaign.

“Since the beginning of the World League our team has been getting familiar with one another and the staff,” commented Sato. “We are improving by leaps and bounds. With a bit more time, I think we will be a good team.”

The 24th FIVB World League, which offers $5.7 million in prize money, features 18 teams split into three pools of six that compete in a five-round, 10-match format.

The top two teams from Group A and B advance to the six-team finals, along with host Argentina.

Bulgaria (14 points) and Brazil (13 points) are presently atop Group A, while Italy (17 points) and Russia (16 points) lead Group B.

Poland won the World League last year, while the United States finished second.