Canada's Dallas Soonias (centre) scores against Costa Rica's Carlos Arturo Cruz Romero (left) and Esteban Araya Urbina during the 2014 Volleyball World Championships qualifications in Mississauga on Monday May 19

Canada books berth into worlds

Canada’s men’s volleyball team breezed through its world championship qualifying tournament with such ease, qualifying seemed like a mere formality. But while Canada powered past overmatched Costa Rica on Monday and into the world championships, it was the team’s first tournament together since the players returned home from their respective pro seasons spent abroad.

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Canada’s men’s volleyball team breezed through its world championship qualifying tournament with such ease, qualifying seemed like a mere formality.

But while Canada powered past overmatched Costa Rica on Monday and into the world championships, it was the team’s first tournament together since the players returned home from their respective pro seasons spent abroad.

It was a chance, said coach Glenn Hoag, to gauge where the team is, before the much tougher road that lies ahead.

“We just wanted to focus on finishing this properly and qualifying for worlds, and we did that,” Hoag said. “We rotated the players, got them all a chance to play in this big gym, which is what we’re going to be facing in big tournaments.

“We have a lot of things to work on obviously, because the guys just regrouped. Our next opponent (Finland) will be next harder.”

Dallas Soonias of Red Deer and Gord Perrin of Creston, B.C., scored 13 points each as Canada defeated Costa Rica in straight sets, 25-14, 25-15, 25-16, in the final at the Hershey Centre.

The victory earned Canada a spot in the world championships, Aug 30 to Sept. 21 in Poland.

The Canadian women followed it up with a 25-16, 25-19, 25-17 victory over Mexico in clinch a spot in the women’s world tournament.

Kyla Richey of Roberts Creek, B.C., led the way with 14 points, while Tabitha Love of Dauphin, Man., had 10.

The men had only gathered at their training base in Ottawa over the past couple of weeks, arriving one or two at a time from their pro clubs overseas.

“It’s always a challenge, because for eight months, we’re not playing on the same teams, we’re not playing in the same cities,” said Dan Lewis, a libero from Oakville, Ont., who plays professionally in Poland.

“And then you come back and it’s a little bit sloppy and everybody is a little bit frustrated, and as the weeks progress, you start to evolve back to where we were.”

It’s difficult, the Canadians added, to gauge where they’re truly at against the three weaker opponents they faced in qualifying.

Fred Winters of Victoria added 12 points and six digs, while Lewis also had six digs for the 11th-ranked Canadians in a game that looked like men against boys. The Canadians dominated No. 62 Costa Rica with their size, speed and superior organized play. The Canadians have six players over six foot five on their roster. The Costa Ricans have none.

“I feel like we have a lot to work on,” said Soonias, who played professionally this season in China and Qatar. “I’m sure our coach thinks we have a ton to work on. It is tough to play your best. You train for the top teams in the world, so sometimes it’s tough to play a slightly weaker team.

“Still, we’re professionals, we try to keep our level high, sometimes it doesn’t always happen.”

He added, it’s always great when the Canadian team players gather after their seasons spent abroad.

“When you play pro, it’s your job,” Soonias said. “Here, we’re playing for a reason, we’re here for the same thing. It’s wonderful to hang out with these guys. That’s why I keep doing it.”

Canada didn’t give up a set in NORCECA’s third-round qualifying tournament (Pool Q), going undefeated through the round robin, with wins over Costa Rica, Panama, and Trinidad & Tobago.

The Canadians have a busy couple of months — and several much tougher opponents — ahead of them before worlds. They have six upcoming World League games — two against Finland, May 31 and June 1 in Calgary, two versus Belgium, June 13 and 14 in Vancouver, and a pair against Australia, June 20 and 21 in Edmonton.

Hoag rotated two separate groups of players through the four games.

“We wanted all the guys to get reps, and get the feeling of playing together before we get Finland,” Hoag said. “It’s good. We needed to get through this process and it’s done. We got our ticket to Poland. I can focus now on other things.”

The Canadian men are on the rise, finishing fifth in the prestigious 18-country World League last year to climb to No. 11 in the world rankings. That strong result came a year after they were just one win away from qualifying for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

They finished 19th at the last world championships in 2010.

The 20th-ranked Canadian women will play in their world championships, Sept. 23 to Oct. 12 in Italy. They also went undefeated through the preliminary round, beating Jamaica, Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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