LONG BEACH, Calif. - Canada is one win away from its first Olympic men's volleyball berth in 20 years.
Canada advanced to the final of the NORCECA qualifying tournament with a five-set win over Puerto Rico in semifinal action Friday. Set scores were 22-25, 25-23, 19-25, 25-23 and 15-11.
Canada will face the United States, the defending Olympic gold medallist, in Saturday's championship match. With a victory, Canada would compete in men's volleyball at the Olympics for the first time since 1992.
"In the past, there's no way we would've won that match," said captain Fred Winters, who led Canada with 18 kills. "We let them have the confidence in the beginning of the match. I don't think we got the momentum back too many times, and we still won. I'm proud of our team."
Canada coach Glenn Hoag viewed the win as a major milestone.
"For our program, it's huge," Hoag said. "We don't have a volleyball culture in Canada but we've been building this group for the last six years with a very systematic approach and young players. It's a learning process."
The third set proved pivotal. Hoag made three substitutions. Setter Dustin Schneider replaced Joshua Howatson, Adam Kaminski came in for Steve Brinkman and Dallas Soonias relieved Gavin Schmidt.
Howatson, Brinkman and Schmidt had played all of Canada's nine sets in group play, and Schmidt was the team's leading hitter with 42 kills.
"They were containing Gavin," Hoag said. "I told Dallas to start hitting cross-court to throw Puerto Rico a little off. Dustin stabilized a lot of things at setter."
With the substitutes' help, Canada broke an 8-8 tie in the fourth set and built a 22-16 lead. Soonias led the rally with four kills and Kaminski added two kills and a block assist.
Puerto Rico narrowed its deficit to 24-23 but Toon Van Lankvelt's tip at the net secured the victory.
Soonias played a key role in the fifth set. With the score tied 9-9, Soonias combined with Brinkman on a block, then pounded a kill to help Canada move ahead, 12-9.
Puerto Rico drew within 12-11 but a service error extended Canada's lead to 13-11. Then Brinkman killed a free ball and joined Soonias on a block to end the match.
Schmidt added 13 kills and Justin Duff had 10 kills and three blocks. Puerto Rico's Juan Figueroa finished with 27 kills and Ezequiel Cruz had 17 kills and three blocks.