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The Globe and Mail

Canada wins men's Olympic volleyball qualifying opener


Fred Lum

Gavin Schmitt of Saskatoon produced 12 points as Canada opened the Olympic qualifying tournament in men's volleyball Monday with a solid 25-21, 25-13, 25-15 victory over the Dominican Republic at Long Beach, Calif.

It was the first match this season for the Canadian squad, which reunited only a couple of weeks ago after their professional seasons overseas. It was the start Canada's head coach Glenn Hoag wanted to this tournament in which only the winner gets the Olympic spot.

The only drama in the match was early in the first set when the Dominicans, ranked 46th in the world, overcame 7 -11 deficit to tie the match 12-12. Then Steve Brinkman of Bowmanville, Ont., Canada's elder statesman playing his 212th international match served for five straight points which knocked the wind out of the Dominican sails.

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''There was a little bit of nervousness at the start but the guys stayed calm,'' said Hoag. ''It was very encouraging for our first game together. It's not only the result but it's the way we won today that really gives the guys a lot of confidence.''

Middle blocker Justin Duff of Winnipeg says the other countries at the tournament have also assembled quickly for this tournament which makes it an even field.

''We've been doing this for a few years now so we should know what to expect,'' said Duff, who earned 11 points, including five on blocks. ''What I like about the win is we duplicated what we've been doing in training. We knew we could come into this game and do very well.''

The competition will get much tougher from here on in for Canada, ranked 18th in the world. They face number-17 Puerto Rico on Tuesday night and conclude the round robin Wednesday vs number-five Cuba. The top team in the pool gets a bye to the semifinal while second and third crossover in the quarterfinal.

The Group A teams are the U.S., Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico and Costa Rica.

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James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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