Rio 2016: Steve Marshall, volleyball

Canada’s volleyball team dreaming big with Olympic quarterfinal spot

With an unexpected spot in the quarterfinals all wrapped up, the Canadian men’s volleyball team is allowing themselves to dream big.

Monday’s four-set win (25-23, 25-17, 16-25, 25-21) over Italy has given Canada its first berth in the Olympic quarterfinals since Los Angeles 1984, when the team notched a best-ever fourth-place finish.

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Nicholas Hoag bumps against Italy during Canada's Olympic group stage match on August 15, 2016.

Nicholas Hoag bumps against Italy during Canada’s Olympic group stage match on August 15, 2016.

“It is nice to beat a really good team in Italy,” said team captain Fred Winters. “We could control our destiny with a win, so it was a lot of pressure for us.”

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Winters noted that there was little pressure on Italy, who’d already assured themselves first place in Pool A prior to Monday’s match. Even so, the result will go down as an upset, with Canada coming into the tournament ranked 12th in the world, compared to Italy at No. 4.

But it wasn’t Canada’s biggest upset of the tournament; that came in the first game of pool play, when they shocked the United States, the reigning FIVB World Cup champions.

Rio 2016: Fans at men's volleyball

Fans cheer for Canada’s team during a men’s preliminary volleyball match against Italy at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Those results will give the Canadians plenty of momentum heading into Wednesday’s quarterfinals, where they’ll once again be the underdogs against either Poland (ranked No. 2) or Russia (No. 3).

“The good thing is, we are familiar with the teams we are going to face,” said Winters. “I do not want to say which one I prefer, they are all good.”

While reaching the semifinals is certainly a big challenge for a team that’s already exceeded expectations, Gavin Schmitt—who led Canada against Italy with 25 points and his typical fiery on-court presence—is unafraid.

“Our objective is to just keep going,” said Schmitt. “We want a medal. We are not here for doing tourism. We are going to see how far we can go.”