Canadian Men’s Volleyball Looking to Build on Olympic Success

Photos by FIVB and Emily Cordonier

It’s a little-known fact that the best volleyball players in Canada can be found right here in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. Considered superstars in their sport elsewhere in the world, the Canadian men’s volleyball team keeps a pretty low profile here at home. The Centre Sportif de Gatineau has been the host training facility for the team since relocating from Winnipeg in 2009. Over the past eight years the Canadian men’s team has skyrocketed up the world rankings to crack into the top ten teams in the world – currently ranked 8th. Last summer the maple volleys made the volleyball world sit up and take notice when they booked a ticket to the Olympic Summer Games in Rio. It was the squad’s first Olympic showing since 1992. Canada took down the powerhouse American squad in their opening match, en route to a 5th place finish.

The stunning rise of Canada’s men’s volleyball program is largely due to the coaching and leadership of Glenn Hoag. Hoag, a former star player and Olympian for Canada, took over as head coach back in 2006. Under his leadership, the Sherbrooke, Quebec native, cultivated an intense and competitive culture, and helped develop some of the top players in the world. But, 2017 marks a new beginning for the team. Hoag announced his retirement as head coach following the 2016 Olympic Games and so, ushering in a new era in Canadian men’s volleyball.  

Taking over as head coach is France’s Stephane Antiga. The new coach may have a lot to live up to, but he brings an impressive volleyball resume of his own. Antiga is a volleyball legend back in France, where he played for his national team for more than a decade. After retiring as an athlete, Antiga went on to coach Poland’s national team, one of the top ranked teams in the world. Though he’s only now been with the Canadian team for a month, the players are liking what Antiga is bringing to the program.

“So, far things are quite similar between Stephane and Glenn. There are certain tactical differences, but expectations are very similar in terms of how good we need to be in practice,” said team member Graham Vigrass.

“This summer brings a new coach and a lot of new players, so it’s fun, it’s fresh. Stephane had an unbelievable playing career, so he knows what he’s talking about. It’s awesome. We’re learning a lot,” added teammate Rudy Verhoeff.

It’s a lot of change for the 40-year-old Antiga, who had never even stepped foot in Canada before taking the coaching position. He says he’s working hard to get to know all of the players and his new home.

“I feel great, I’m very happy about the first weeks of preparation. This was my first time in Canada, so it was my first time discovering the centre and we have everything we need to work with here. I’m also very happy about the guys, they are involved and they work very well. I can only say positive things about my short experience here in Gatineau so far,” said Antiga.

One person who will help with the continuity between the two coaches, is long-time player turned assistant coach Dan Lewis. Lewis was a member of the national team for more than two decades, before retiring this year. He will now bring his experience to the team, serving as Antiga’s right hand man.

“The transition was always a big question because Glenn was such an integral part of the program over the last ten years. But our older athletes are all playing in good pro leagues, they are all growing and they have that system and foundation in place now and Stephane now brings the tactics and the minutiae of specific techniques,” said Lewis.

The Canadian team will be put to the test this weekend, when they square off against the best teams in the world with the start of the FIVB World League competition. Canada will be missing a few key players from the 2016 Olympic roster, notably star right side attacker Gavin Schmitt who retired from the national team following the Olympics. The World League games will give Antiga a chance to test and develop some of the physical, younger players who hope to replace some of the offensive force previously provided by Schmitt.

Antiga adds that “it’s an important step for Canada and we look forward to testing our players against the best teams in the world. The next three weekends will give us some crucial information as we begin the drive toward qualifying for Tokyo 2020.”