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Alexa Gray shines for Canada in Volleyball Nations League opening loss to Poland

One match into a fourth Volleyball Nations League season, it is clear Canada’s women have plenty of room for improvement. It’s also evident head coach Shannon Winzer has a go-to player to fill in for absent offensive force Kiera Van Ryk.

Outside hitter Alexa Gray topped all players with 37 points (36 attack, one block) in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss in sets to Poland in Antalya, Turkey. The 28-year-old from Calgary came up big on a few occasions but needed more support offensively from her teammates.

Fellow outside hitter Hilary Howe was the only other Canadian to reach double digits with 15 points, followed by Vicky Savard and Langley, B.C. setter Brie King with seven apiece.

Poland had four players with at least 10 points, including team leader Magdalena Stysiak with 20. Martyna Czyrnianska, who added five points, ended the two-hour 30-minute match with an ace at the 10,000-seat Antalya Sports Hall.

Canada next plays on Thursday versus 0-1 Thailand (7 a.m. ET). Thailand lost in five sets on Tuesday to Italy, the defending VNL champions.

Last October, Canada dropped a 3-2 decision to host Poland in Phase 2 of the FIVB world championship.

Van Ryk, who led Canada with 21 points, and her teammates concluded their tourney on a high note with a 3-2 victory over the Dominican Republic.

The 24-year-old native of New Westminster, B.C, is away from the team for personal reasons, but is anticipated to return later in the competition. Van Ryk was eighth overall in offence last season in the VNL and top server with 20 aces.

Her presence in Tuesday’s match would have been huge as the heavy-hitting player probably would have helped an inconsistent Canada outfit from blowing several leads and poor service play at crucial times. The Canadians prevailed 68-63 on the attack, but were outblocked and outserved.

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