Rivers native Toon Van Lankvelt and Brandon’s Dustin Schneider went from one of their biggest volleyball disappointments to one of their career highlights in a span of one week.
Shortly after the Canadian men’s team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London were dashed by the Americans in California earlier this month, the squad started preparing for one of the sport’s biggest events: The Volleyball World League.
Canada, which is ranked 18th in the world and qualified for the 16-team international event by beating Slovakia and Puerto Rico last fall, hosted the first matches last weekend in a pool that features the world’s top-ranked team in Brazil, fourth-ranked Poland and 27th-ranked Finland.
After beating the Finns on opening night, the Canadians shocked the Brazilians in their second match before falling to Poland.
"It was an amazing event," Schneider said. "They put on a really good thing here in Toronto and it was really cool. It was the biggest event we’ve ever been in in Canada and we had so much support from people in our own country and people were cheering for us for a change. It was pretty cool."
Schneider, who has been battling a sore knee, received some playing time as the backup setter, coming off the bench in all three sets of Canada’s 3-0 (33-31, 26-24, 25-23) win over Finland and played in one set of Canada’s 3-2 (25-23, 20-25, 25-20, 24-26, 15-10) upset of Brazil. Schneider also started two sets and came in for another off the bench in Canada’s 3-1 (25-17, 19-25, 21-25, 19-25) loss to Poland.
For his part, Van Lankvelt played only one set against Poland as the coaches elected to go with Gord Perrin at left side for the opening weekend of the World League. Even though he didn’t play much, Van Lankvelt took a lot of pride in being on Canada’s first team to qualify for the World League since 2007 and for beating the world’s best team in Brazil.
"To be back in there and playing competitive teams for a month straight is a big thing for us," the 6-foot-6 left side said. "In the past, we’ve only been able to play exhibition games against lesser teams. It’s really important to play good-level teams. … Any time you can beat Brazil, it’s an amazing accomplishment in volleyball. That just opened up some eyes, especially playing at home and beating them, that was really big for us."
He was also happy with Canada’s 2-1 start, since the team is hoping to finish at least in third place in its group.
"If you would have told us at the start of the week that we would be 2-1, we would have taken that," Van Lankvelt said. "Against Finland, we were hoping and expecting to win. Taking one of two wins from Poland and Brazil, which are two of the top five teams in the world, we definitely would have been happy with that."
Canada’s World League matches continue in Katowice, Poland from June 1-3, in Sao Bernardo Campo, Brazil from June 8-10 and Tampere, Finland from June 15-17. The top team in each of the four groups, plus the best second-place team, advance to the championship round.
After Canada’s early success, Schneider doesn’t expect his teammates to play tourist very much as they prepare for their next nine matches.
"It’s pretty serious now," he said. "I think we’ve established ourselves the last couple weeks at a higher level than people thought we would be and it’s really good. We have to change our expectations and try to be more business-like when we go to Poland and get a few more wins and try to make it to the finals."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 25, 2012