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Canada's volleyball teams hope to use Pan Am Games as Rio preview

05/08/2015 04:57 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Canada's volleyball teams plan to use this summer's Pan American Games as a practice run for what they hope will be their first Olympic appearances in two decades.

"They're a big Games, this will be a repetition of what we could be facing in Rio if we get there, so it's pretty important to manage the atmosphere and manage everything that comes with big Games," coach Glenn Hoag said on a conference call Friday, in conjunction with the release of the Pan Am schedules.

The Canadian men, ranked 14th in the world, haven't made an Olympic appearance since 1992, while the No. 16 Canadian women last played in 1996.

Both squads are on the rise, with the men coming off a best-ever seventh-place finish at last year's world championships. Hoag, who played for the Canadian squad that finished fourth at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, believes the men have a better shot at qualifying for the Olympics than they've had in years.

"The hunger is there, obviously the guys want to qualify, and we're doing everything that's within our means to get there," Hoag said. "We're not necessarily a volleyball culture in Canada and we've needed to prove ourselves every time we step in the gym, we need to try to make things perfect, make things better, with the aim of qualifying for the Olympics.

"We know we can play anyone now, and then it's going to come to fine-tuning, and being ready for the moment when it comes."

Hoag said the distraction that comes with living in the athletes village will be great practice for Rio.

"I was coaching in Athens (at the 2004 Olympics) with the French team, and that's what happened, the distractions took over and the team didn't perform that well," Hoag said. "It's distractions, getting spread out in the Village and the cafeteria and all that stuff. . . I've been there before, I've seen it happen. So I'm going to try to keep that under control as much as I can.

"It helps me get ready if we do reach Rio, to get the guys ready for this kind of environment."

The Pan Am volleyball competition will be fierce, featuring seven of the world's top 15 teams.

The men's field features world No. 1-ranked Brazil, plus fifth-ranked United States, No. 6 Argentina, and Cuba, the silver medallists at the 2011 Pan Ams in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Canadian men will open July 17 versus Mexico, then play Puerto Rico on July 19, followed by the United States, ranked fifth in the world, on July 21. The medal games are July 26.

The Canadian women are looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd for a change.

"My team is not seen very often in Canada and they want to play in front of a lot of people who are cheering for them," said women's coach Arnd Ludwig. "We want to embrace the moment, basically every single play, every single game that we get in Toronto."

The women open the Pan Ams versus the Dominican Republic on July 16, then face Cuba on July 18 and Argentina on July 20. The medal games are July 25.

The Americans are No. 1-ranked on the women's side, while Brazil is No. 2 and the defending Pan Am champions.

The Pan Am volleyball tournament will be held at the Exhibition Centre.

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