The chances of the Canadian women’s volleyball team quietly entering the upcoming Olympic qualifying tournament in Ningbo, China, as an underdog are slim to none.
The secret has come to light.
“I don’t think we’re under the radar anymore. That’s probably over,” head coach Shannon Winzer said from Suwon, South Korea, where the team just wrapped up a successful training block at the Pink pro team’s facility. Spiders.
“There’s a total buzz around the team. As players and as staff, you know you’re part of something that’s pretty exciting.”
The team, currently ranked 11th in the world, begins its quest to qualify for its first Olympic Games in 28 years when the Women’s Volleyball Pre-Olympic Tournament begins in three different countries (China, Japan and Poland) starting September 16 . -24.
Six of the 12 places for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games are up for grabs and the top two nations in each of the three groups will book their ticket.
The remaining places will be determined by the world ranking at the end of next season’s Volleyball Nations League.
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Canada finds itself in an ultra-competitive Group A. They are joined by hosts China (2016 Olympic gold medalist and 2023 Volleyball Nations League runner-up), 2022 world champions Serbia, the Dominican Republic (who recently beat reigning Olympic champion USA) and 2022 world champions Serbia. USA, in five sets at the NORCECA Championship in Quebec City), Holland, Czech Republic, Mexico and Ukraine.
Point guard Brie King told CBC Sports earlier this season that “our team is really ready for the big moments ahead.”
Well, now the most important moment of the season has arrived.
They are no longer the helpless
Over the past two decades, Canada has become accustomed to entering tournaments with the “underdog” label. That tag has evaporated thanks to recent Volleyball Nations League performances in which they beat world champion Serbia and five-time Olympic medalist Brazil, as well as taking world No. 5 Italy and No. 7 Poland to five sets.
Placing 10th at last year’s world championships was a new benchmark for the women’s program, but now their minds are focused on reaching the Olympics for the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Games.
A change in mentality has been necessary for players to believe that it is possible.
“We’ve changed the language in the way we speak,” Winzer said earlier this year. “The players are not only happy to be on the national team. The women now say: ‘I want to be an Olympian.'”
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This season, while the players were stationed with their respective professional teams around the world, they would meet virtually every two weeks to stay connected and work on their tactical and mental game. Additionally, during that time, they heard from guest speakers including Steph Labbé, goalkeeper for the Olympic gold medal-winning soccer team, TJ Saunders, two-time Olympic point guard for the men’s national volleyball team, and Kim Gaucher, three-time Olympic in women’s basketball.
“What they all had in common with us is that they went through a challenging process to qualify for the Olympics,” King said. “It was amazing to hear from people who were in our shoes and did what we wanted to do.”
They have also received guidance from mental performance coach Roger Friesen, who is embedded with the team as they pursue their dream of qualifying for Paris 2024. He was part of the Canadian women’s national basketball team staff when they qualified for London. 2012 Olympic Games for the first time in 12 years.
Bona fide stars
Along with King, the team features several bonafide stars, including offensive threats Kiera Van Ryk and Alexa Gray.
Van Ryk, a 24-year-old opposite from New Westminster, BC, missed the first leg of the VNL for personal reasons, but according to Winzer she is in her best form of the season and has been creating great chemistry with King.
One cause for concern is the health of Calgary forward Gray, who was injured during the NORCECA semifinal against the Dominican Republic.
With six games in eight days, it’s going to be a tough task, but Winzer remembers the lessons learned in Round 3 of the Volleyball Nations League, where the team played three five-set matches in four days, beating Brazil and losing a tight one against Italy and topping the world’s No. 9 seed, the Netherlands.
“It was the ability to play at this high level but maintain that high level of performance game after game. I was really proud of that,” Winzer said. “That’s what it will take in these Olympic qualifiers. There are no easy games and we need our maximum performance day after day.”