Canada staged an epic comeback against Cuba in Round 2 of the 2020 NORCECA Volleyball Olympic Qualifier at home in Vancouver and came very close to securing the ticket for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
After firmly dominating the first 2 sets in, what was likely, the decisive clash in NORCECA Qualifier, Cuba fell into the next 3 sets and practically said goodbye to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Canadian team refused to surrender, even after 1:4 in the tie-break. Stephen Maar scored 21 points including 5 winning blocks for Canada, while Ryan Sclater also set up 5 winning blocks. Marlon Yant scored 14 points for Cuba. With the victory, the North American side sat in first place in the standings with a 2-0 score and 8 points and remained the only undefeated team in the competition.
The only option for Cubans to get the last Olympic ticket from the region of North, Central America and the Caribbean is to defeat Mexico but also to cheer for Puerto Rico (beat Mexico in straight sets today) against Canada in the last round. However, Puerto Rico also see their chance of qualifying for the Tokyo event, to beat Canada and hope Mexico will down Cuba. But, according to what was seen so far, Canada’s participation in the Olympics seems like the most probable option.
Cuba coach Nicolas Ernesto Vives Coffigny said how difficult it had been for his team to adapt to Canada’s game. “Canada is a great team with great skill. We’re young and developing. We’re going to improve next for next time. Canada’s serving was exceptional after the first two sets and they really mixed up their game plan. We didn’t adjust to their game and that cost us.”
For Canada’s Nick Hoag, on the other hand, it was all about staying focused. “There’s no words for this game,” he said. “Cuba played really well the first two sets. The crowd gave us some extra energy. We focused in on our game plan because there was some specific things we had to do and we executed it really well. We had to stay aggressive and we got the win in the end. Our serving made a big difference. They weren’t able to run the middle so much. They’re really physical in the middle. We did ramp up the serving and put a lot of pressure on them.”
Hoag also underlined how the crowd’s support was crucial. “The crowd helped us so much. It was a crucial part of our win. Mentally, it’s hard to fight after being down two sets to zero. It’s one of the best crowds I’ve had in Canada.”
Now Canada focus on their next and last match in the tournament. “It’s mixed feelings because we have one more match to go,” said Hoag. “We’re not done. We don’t have our ticket to Tokyo. Puerto Rico is playing well, they beat Mexico in straight sets. We’re going to go stretch, eat, get some rest and be ready for tomorrow.”
For Canada coach Glenn Hoag, it was about playing smarter. “We were controlling the match from a defensive perspective. Our offense was struggling and scoring – they were playing well. We started playing a little smarter after the first two sets. We played a lot of short balls because Cuba has a lot of good blockers. Our serving was really good and we started mixing up our attack. It was a team effort. It’s been two weeks of 16 guys and we can see the results now.
We’re going to do a solid preparation for Puerto Rico. We have a lot of fresh guys. We have an early match, we’re going to go rest and be ready for tomorrow.”
2020 NORCECA Volleyball Olympic Qualifier – Round 2
Puerto Rico – Mexico 3-0 (26:24, 25:23, 25:23)
Canada – Cuba 3-2 (22:25, 22:25, 25:12, 25:21, 15:9)
Source and photos: volleyball.coqt.2020.fivb.com