Canadian men's volleyball makes big strides on world stage
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Glenn Hoag's players surrounded him on the court in celebration Saturday, moments after another memorable Olympic victory for Canada.
The tradition began during an Olympic qualifier two months ago in Tokyo, where the Canadians claimed the last berth in Brazil, and has been happening ever since.
''It just kind of happened naturally. We had this circle and Glenn looked over and ran in and yelled,'' John Gordon Perrin said. ''Every time we win now we do the same thing. It's kind of a little energy booster and a ritual for us.''
It will be over the coming months, and even years, that Hoag and son Nick will truly reflect on what they accomplished by bringing Canadian volleyball back to the Olympic stage after more than two decades.
Being the last team into the tournament, the Canadians knew just how tough it would be to advance from the group stage. Then they shocked the Americans in straight sets in their opener.
''Listen, Canada's good,'' U.S. coach John Speraw said emphatically. ''News flash for everybody here, the Canadians are really good.''
Canada hadn't been to an Olympics in men's volleyball since the 1992 Barcelona Games, and earned the final spot in the 12-team field at a last-ditch qualifier two months ago.
Now, Hoag is making his final hurrah as coach with the whole world watching and taking notice how far the country has come to close the gap with the world's power programs.
For father and son, this time means so much even as they try to push any emotions to the side and stay in the quarterfinal race - and Canada did its part with a straight-set win over Mexico at Maracanazinho arena. The Canadians face a tough test from Italy on Monday.
''It's been a dream of mine, nothing I've wanted more in my life since I started playing volleyball, so it's something that's very special and being here with Glenn is even more special,'' Nick said, ''because, who knows, maybe I'll be here in four years, maybe I won't.''
Nick - formally Nicholas - is the youngest of Hoag's two sons, and the youngest on the Canadian team by eight months. He has his sights on leading this group to another Olympics four years down the road in Tokyo after his father has handed off the clipboard to a new coach.
Middle blocker Rudy Verhoeff has taken time to ponder and appreciate Hoag's role in reinventing, reinvigorating Canadian volleyball from the ground up while preparing to leave the program in such a positive place.
''It's crossed my mind once or twice this week, yeah, for sure,'' Verhoeff said.
Nick would love nothing more than for the Canadians to still be playing by his 24th birthday on Aug. 19. He's not getting ahead of himself.
When Hoag took over as Canada coach 10 years ago, he set the tone from the start. From development and a training center in Gatineau, Quebec, to embracing ever-changing technology and ways to give the Canadians even the slightest edge.
He had a plan for the national team: His players must either buy in or head out. Hoag sought to build a culture that was committed to developing players from the lowest levels all the way up to the senior squad.
''I was really proud of them in Japan when they qualified because I thought they really deserved it, and many other guys that are not here deserved it just for the effort, and the smart effort,'' Hoag said. ''To be able to reach our level we needed to be able to think smart, to play smart, to be considerate toward each other, to push each other, so that was my mindset when I came to the games.
''We got here, and you're never sure of anything. But when you put things in place and you take a group of guys like this who work for it, then it's a nice gift, a nice accomplishment for the group. That's how I feel.''
Hoag never considered walking away when Canada failed to qualify for London four years ago, determined to stick it out over the long haul and through the tough times.
''It would have been pretty easy for him to say, `OK, I did my best, I tried,' but he believed in what we had going,'' Verhoeff said. ''He's been the pioneer, he's been the captain of the ship. He's been there before when he was back playing. He knew what it took and it was a long process.''