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Canadian women’s volleyball team begins pivotal season with Olympics in sight

Riding a wave of momentum following their historic second-round finish at the world championship last season, the Canadian women’s volleyball team starts its most pivotal season to date with the Volleyball Nations League (VNL). 

It’s the start of Olympic qualifying season and Canada wants to use the 16-team VNL competition as a springboard to Paris 2024.

Head coach Shannon Winzer announced her 14-player roster last Friday ahead of the first leg of competition in Antalya, Turkey. The first stop starts with Canada facing Poland (Tuesday, 1 p.m), followed by matches versus Thailand, Korea, and Serbia before the team moves on to the second and third legs of the competition in Hong Kong and Bangkok.

The women’s finals for 2023 will be held in Arlington, Texas, from July 12 to 16.

Canada, currently ranked No. 14 in the world, concluded with a 4-8 record last year, 12th in the overall standings. Italy was the overall women’s winner in 2022, followed by Brazil and Serbia.

VNL is the top international tournament in the sport outside of the Olympics and world championship. 

Canada will have to make due without its top offensive threat from last season, Kiera Van Ryk. The 24-year-old native of New Westminster, B.C, is away from the team for personal reasons, but is expected to return later in the competition. Canada will certainly miss the heavy-hitting Van Ryk, who was eighth overall in offence last season in VNL and the top server, with 20 aces.

Filling the void will be another powerhouse, Alexa Gray. The 28-year-old from Calgary is fresh off an Italian league title with Imoco Prosecco Doc Conegliano, where she was named most valuable player. She was 10th in attack points last season in the VNL.

Quarterbacking the offence is 25-year-old Langley, B.C. setter, Brie King, who is coming off her first season playing for the prestigious Brazilian club, Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro, where she was coached by the legendary Bernardo “Bernardinho” Rezende.

King believes the successful run at the world championship last season helped build the team’s growing confidence. She says the team’s identity is meant for competitions like the VNL.

“We have a lot of grit. We have a lot of young players who have kind of grown up with this program now and we kind of play with the chip on our shoulder, like people underestimate us,” King told CBC Sports.

“We want to show that we’re right there with the top teams …I think we’re really ready. Our team is really ready for the big moments that are coming up.” 

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