2017 NORCECA XII Men's Pan-American Cup

USA And Canada: Neighbors And Rivals In Men's Volleyball

USA And Canada: Neighbors And Rivals In Men's Volleyball

Once the "little brother" to the USA in the NORCECA region, Canada's men's volleyball team is becoming a force to be reckoned with on the world stage. The two may meet in next week's Pan-American Cup in Gatineau, Canada, from July 25-30.

Jul 20, 2017 by Megan Kaplon
USA And Canada: Neighbors And Rivals In Men's Volleyball
When the Canada men's national volleyball team swept the USA in both squads' first match of the 2016 Rio Olympics, it shocked volleyball fans from all over the world. Canada was seeded 12th and had barely qualified for the Olympics, earning its spot at the very last opportunity, while the USA was the fifth seed and expected to contend for a medal.

But perhaps we -- the volleyball fans of the world -- should not have been so surprised.

As USA men's national team head coach John Speraw said after that Olympics pool play loss, "Listen, Canada's good. News flash for everybody, the Canadians are really good."

No one knows that better than the Americans. In the two years leading up to the Rio Olympics, the U.S. and Canada met five times in FIVB and NORCECA competitions, with Canada emerging victorious in all but one of those meetings.

The two may be on yet another collision course in this year's NORCECA Men's Pan-American Volleyball Cup in Gatineau, Canada, which kicks off on July 25. Although they're in different pools, the probability is high that they'll meet sometime in the tournament rounds.
Canada took down the USA in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Pan-American Cup. A year earlier, USA's neighbors to the north won the 2015 NORCECA Champions Cup, defeating the American squad in five sets in the final. That year, Canada also won five-set matches over the U.S. at the Pan-Am Games and the Pan-Am Cup. The only time the USA walked away with a victory over Canada in 2015 was in the first round of the FIVB World Cup, which the USA eventually won. Canada finished seventh.

"For a long time, it was just really easy to be like, 'Oh, [Canada's] almost the little brother in NORCECA,' but that's certainly not the case," USA technical coordinator Nate Ngo told the FloVolleball podcast "Talk Volley to Me" in a June 12 interview. "I can tell you since I've joined the staff, since 2015, they've taken it to us in a lot of meaningful competitions."

2017 marks the start of a new Olympic quadrennial, looking ahead to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Rosters are in flux, with many young players making their international debuts and some of the top veterans taking time off. It's tough to say which teams will be the best in the world by the time the Tokyo Games roll around, but Canada, with new head coach Stephane Antiga at the helm, is already making a statement and building on its growing rivalry with the United States.

Stephane Antiga Canada men's volleyball coach
Canada Head Coach Stephane Antiga | Photo courtesy FIVB

The two countries met in pool play of the 2017 FIVB World League competition on June 3, and Canada stretched its head-to-head win-streak to six in a row, defeating the USA 23-25, 25-19, 18-25, 25-23, and 15-11.

Then, proving its pool play victory wasn't a fluke, Canada won again when it met the USA in the bronze-medal match, claiming a spot on the World League podium for the first time in program history.

"[Canada's] got some players that have been around," Ngo said. "Gordon Perrin, he's been on the team for a while now, and he's definitely developed into one of the top outside hitters in the world. They've got a solid core of players that have been playing together for a while now. They're going to be a force to be reckoned with."

Gordon Perrin canada world league 2017
Gordon Perrin, Team Canada Outside Hitter | Photo courtesy FIVB

Perrin, who led the Canadian team with 96 points throughout the 2017 World League tournament, gave a lot of credit to the players that helped build the program, as well as the young guys who make up the bulk of the roster now.

"I'm very grateful for everybody that helped the team along the way, as there have been a lot of players that sacrificed a lot for this team. I'm grateful for all that and very happy for these young guys to experience all of these," Perrin said. "Every year we achieve something new--we were in Rio on the last Olympic Games, we were fifth at the World League four years ago. I'm excited to see how far we can go."

One of those young guys was Sharone Vernon-Evans, an 18-year-old breakout star for the Canadian squad, who recently signed a professional deal with ONICO Warsaw in Poland, where Antigua coaches. Vernon-Evans scored 53 points in four matches in the final round of World League, playing a large part in Canada's bronze-medal finish.

Sharone Vernon-Evans canada world league 2017
Sharone Vernon-Evans, Team Canada Opposite | Photo courtesy FIVB

It looks like USA men's volleyball's little brother is growing up, and the two teams will have another opportunity to meet in next week's Pan-American Cup. They're in opposite pools, but the two teams, which as of late have been the strongest men's programs in the NORCECA region, have a good chance of meeting in the semifinals or the medal rounds.

"Certainly at this point, any time that we can face Canada and learn more about them, it's going to be a big deal for us," Ngo said. "That'll be a big deal if we get to face Canada in the Pan-Am Cup."

If it happens, the pressure is on the U.S. to end Canada's seven-match win streak, and turn the tides back in its favor.

For Canada, the mindset is expressed perfectly in this quote from star opposite Gavin Schmitt after the Olympics upset of USA.

"For me the motivation to be performing is this right here," he said, pointing to the Canadian flag on his jersey. "We're here to represent Canada and we all want to represent our country well, and we want to prove that we can compete with anybody and we can beat anybody. We are just here to make Canada proud, and play well and get some wins."