The Canadian women’s volleyball team will take to the court next weekend at the FIVB Grand Prix — the women’s equivalent to the World League — for the first time since 2003, and a pair of Westman players will be a part of it.
Both Brandonite Lisa Barclay and Dauphin’s Tabi Love were named to Canada’s travelling roster Friday for the opening weekend in Lima, Peru, and the pair are excited to don the Maple Leaf in one of the biggest international volleyball competitions.
"It’s amazing," said Barclay, who will back up team captain Brittney Page at right side. "Grand Prix is going to be a really awesome experience for us. I’m definitely really glad I get to be a part of that."
The players were worried at the end of last year that they may not have qualified for the Grand Prix, but the event expanded to 28 teams this year, which opened the door for Canada to make its long-awaited return. Canada will compete in the Division 2 part of the competition, which means they need a top three finish among the eight teams — top four if host Poland is in the top three — to advance to the final four in Poland. The winner of the final four advances to the six-team championship finals in Japan.
Love, who’s expected to start at left side for Canada, knows getting to the Division 2 final will be tough with Poland, Peru, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, Argentina, Cuba and Belgium standing in their way, but she thinks this team has a chance to fare well.
"I think for us, it’s easy to get overwhelmed," she said. "There’s a lot of teams and we don’t know that much about a lot of them and we’re going to be in all these different countries and there’s so many variables. I think for us, we just have to focus on playing our game and taking it one game at a time.
"I think if we maintain that intensity that we’ve had in the gym and we keep focused on what we can control, I think we can go really far in this tournament."
Part of the challenge of the Grand Prix is the travel that comes with it. The Canadians will play three matches in Peru the first weekend before doing the same in Belgium and Argentina in the following two weeks.
Love has experience playing NCAA Division 1 volleyball with UCLA and professionally in the Caribbean and Europe, while Barclay is the reigning Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s volleyball player of the year after leading the UBC Thunderbirds to a national silver medal. However, neither has experienced the travel demands of the Grand Prix, but they’re grateful Volleyball Canada has brought in nutritionists and sports psychologists to help them prepare.
"We’ve been talking about that a lot with sleep habits and that," said Barclay, who has never been to Europe. "It’s definitely going to be tough being that the games are really close together. It will be an experience and I guess every team is going through it, so we’ll see how we manage."
While Barclay and Love are both on the team, they’re expecting to have different experiences. Barclay hopes she’ll see some court time coming off the bench and learn as much as she can from the experience. Meanwhile, Love is expecting to start and be one of the team’s big offensive threats.
It’s a nice change for Love, who missed last month’s Pan Am Cup as a precautionary measure to let the ankle she injured playing pro in Poland over the winter fully heal. She took two weeks off jumping and practised with Canada’s B team as a libero in the meantime.
Now Love is just looking forward to returning to the court.
"It’s really exciting," she said. "It was cool to find out we’re playing Poland in our second game in Peru. I know that one of my coaches where I played in Lodz, he’ll be there. I think he’s the stats guy for the Polish national team. It will be nice to see some familiar faces there. I’d love to go all the way to Poland.
"It would be great not only to go back but to advance that far in the tournament. It would be an amazing experience."
The players had some time off after a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Pan Am Cup, which Love thinks rejuvenated the team. She feels they have practised well and are ready for their return to the Grand Prix, facing Peru on Friday, Poland July 26 and Belgium on July 27.
"We’ve been training really hard," said Love. "It was nice, we had a little break after Pan Am Cup and people were able to go away and have time with family and come in with a fresh mindset and that allowed us to elevate ourselves not only physically, but mentally as well from where we were at before. I think that has worked in our benefit.
"I think everyone’s excited, not just for this trip because we get to see so many places and play great teams, but just to get to wear the jersey again and get back on the court together."