What are the opponent's chances when you have an inspired Fred Winters and a killer like Gavin Schmitt playing in high level? Don’t ask Cuba. They felt a bitter taste as Canada beat them in three (25-21, 25-17, 25-21). Cuba is the runner up in the last World Championships and in the World Grand Champions Cup. They are also reigning NORCECA champions. Tonight, the Cubans relied on stars such as Wilfredo Leon (one of the best left sides of the world) and opposite Fernando Hernandez, the best scorer in the World Cup last December. Team Canada needed only 80 minutes to defeat Cuba in Long Beach, California. The Canadians haven’t dropped a set in the tournament.
Winters and Schmitt called the shots. They ignored the Cuban block that put Canada ahead most of the time. With the exception of the beginning of the third set (when Cuba led 5-3) Canada dominated the whole match. The strong Cuban serve from Hernandez, Leon and Rolando Cepeda was neutralized by Winters, Toon van Lankvelt and Dan Lewis. Last September at The NORCECA championships when Cuba beat Canada in a five-set thriller, the serve was the main weapon of the Caribbean team. Not tonight. On the other hand, Canada's serve left only a few options to the Cuban setter Yoandry Diaz, making the task for the Canuck block easier. Team Canada played consistently throughout the game, showing solid smart volleyball.
Schmitt was the top scorer with an impressive 21 points (17 kills, two blocks and two aces), followed by Winters who added 16 (15 kills and one ace) in a classy exhibition at the Walter Pyramid Gymnasium. Lankvelt contributed with eight points (four kills and four blocks).
Team Canada gets a bye to semis and gets to rest one day. They wait for the winner of the match involving Puerto Rico and Mexico. Cuba will have an easy ride against Trinidad & Tobago in the quarterfinals, but then they will clash the USA, reigning Olympic champions in the semifinal. That match was what many experts expected to be the final. The Ricans lost to Canada on Tuesday and the Mexicans play in the same level of Puerto Rico. Canada plays the semifinal on Friday at 9:00 p.m. EST and has a big chance to reach the final scheduled to Saturday at 11:00 p.m. EST.
Canada started with Lankvelt and Winters (left sides), Steve Brinkman and Justin Duff (middles), Josh Howatson (setter), Schmitt (opposite), and Dan Lewis (libero). Nicholas Cundy subbed in to serve in the end of the second set replacing Brinkman. A few days before the tournament, coach Glenn Hoag had said the team was ready for the challenge. Back in the training centre in Gatineau, Fred Winters remarked that the gap between Canada and teams like Cuba and USA was getting smaller. Well, they just proved that beating Cuba is no longer a dream.
You can watch the Norceca qualifier live on: www.usavlive.com