05/06/2012 10:00 EDT | Updated 07/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada men's volleyball hopes on line in California at NORCECA tournament

Canada's hopes of qualifying for men's volleyball are on the line at a tournament that starts Monday in California.

"For now, this is our only chance," said coach Glenn Hoag as he prepared to lead his squad into the six-day NORCECA (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) event.

To win that coveted berth, they'll have to get past Cuba and the United States, both well ahead of 18th-seeded Canada in the rankings.

But Hoag says they feel good about their chances.

"I think the group is ready to challenge those big names like Cuba and the USA," he said.

"We can challenge anybody at all positions now. We're really stable that way, which wasn't the case in the past."

Canada is in Pool A with Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Pool B includes the host Americans, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago and Costa Rica.

The U.S. also still needs to qualify for the Olympics. But the U.S. men's team has managed to do that for the past three Olympics at the NORCECA tournament. Cuba is ranked fifth and the United States sixth.

A Canadian men's team hasn't played at the Olympics since the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

"Really it's about the last two matches of the qualifier . . . but first we've got to make it out of the pool," said Hoag.

He liked the way Canada matched up against Cuba last year at the NORCECA tournament, although they ended up losing 3-2.

"We match up pretty good against them. We haven't played the U.S. in a few years but they've lost some key players, we'll see."

He said they will have to scout the U.S. team when they get to Long Beach, where the tournament is being held.

"We have a fairly young team. We only have a few veterans but it's the same young team that played against Cuba last year."

There are only a handful of veterans left like libero Dan Lewis, left side Fred Winters and middle Steve Brinkman.

While Hoag says it looks like one of Canada's best chances to qualify in years, with such a young squad they're also looking towards the Pan American Games in Toronto and the 2016 Olympics.

With players just coming out of their pro leagues to rejoin the squad, he says they haven't had a chance to play in any matches. But other teams face similar problems.