For those of you new to these 2018 Men’s Nations League previews, this will give you a better idea of the teams that you’re unfamiliar with and will allow you to follow the tournament more easily. The format consists of 5 weekends of round-robin play starting May 25th (THIS FRIDAY!!!!!) taking place in different locations around the world followed by a final round in Lille, France on July 4-8th.
I’ll be doing the previews in reverse order of my own personal, unofficial power rankings. Feel free to let me know why your team is too low.
This is my team, so I fully admit to being biased. That being said, its hard not to be excited about Canadian volleyball right now. The bronze medal at World League 2017 was the first for Canadian men’s volleyball in their history. There are a record number of pro Canadian volleyball players every year, and it shows in the quality of the national team.
Unfortunately, the Canadians will be missing their breakout player from last year’s world league, opposite Sharone Vernon-Evans. Vernon is known for his absurd spike touch, and is possibly the best prospect in volleyball right now. He decided to forego playing in college to start his pro career in Poland, where he injured his tibia in practice. Without him, there is a question mark on the right side. In friendly matches, Bradley Gunter has played. He spent this past season playing in Poland on the same club as TJ Sanders, so they have plenty of reps together. Ryan Sclater, one of the best scorers in the Bundesliga this season, is also an option. Nick Hoag has spent some time on the right side for Canada in the past, which makes sense as he is a passing-challenged heavy-hitting outside. The last possibility is the return of the legendary Gavin Schmitt. The 6’10 lefty is an icon in Canadian volleyball, spending time in his career playing for the world’s top clubs like Funvic/Tabaute. The legitimate possibility of a medal may have lured him to play one last summer for Canada, but we still don’t know the extent to which he will be involved with the team.
The first outside spot will be occupied by captain Gord Perrin, a rock-solid player with no major weaknesses and one of the most underrated wing hitters in volleyball right now. The second outside spot is a bit trickier. Stephen Maar and Ryley Barnes took most of the minutes last year, but both had disappointing club seasons where they lost starting spots, in Italy and Russia respectively. Jason DeRocco played well in Poland this season and will be given a chance, and Nick Hoag won player of the month in Italy, but still can’t pass. Canada has a lot of B+ options, but are looking for someone to step up and claim the spot.
Libero Blair Bann won a well-deserved “best libero” on last year’s world league dream team and is sneakily one of the best in the world at the position. Setter TJ Sanders doesn’t block or serve at an elite level, but has smooth hands and could be a libero defensively. There aren’t that many middles with the skill set of Graham Vigrass, and he will be supported by one of several competent big men who can occupy the second spot. Too bad Daenen Gyimah, who dominated the NCAA as a sophomore middle at UCLA, won’t be able to join the team because of school.
There is a pretty slim chance that Canada repeats its medal performance at World League last year given that more teams are sending their top lineups, but they are a strong contender to make the final 6. They have several of the best prospects in men’s volleyball, not all of who I was able to get to in this write-up, and will be a force in the next couple Olympic cycles.
Likely starters (players to watch in italics):
OH: Gord Perrin
OH: Stephen Maar
OP: Bradley Gunter
MB: Graham Vigrass
MB: Daniel Jansen Vandoorn
S: TJ Sanders
L: Blair Bann