EDMONTON - A Canadian collapse has complicated the road to the world volleyball championships.
Paul Carroll had a 23-point performance as the Australian men's national volleyball team came away with a huge 3-2 comeback victory over Canada in FIVB World League intercontinental round play in Edmonton on Friday.
The win helped the Australians improve to 3-4 while Canada failed to keep pace atop the Group C standings with Belgium at 5-2, dropping to 4-3.
Saskatoon's Gavin Schmitt led the way for the Canadian side with 31 points. Canada will try to get a measure of revenge on Saturday night when the two teams play a rematch, again in Edmonton.
Canadian captain Frederic Winters said it was a devastating loss that will make their path to worlds a much tougher one.
"It was a really disappointing game for us," he said. "It makes it really hard for us to win the group, which was our goal. Obviously Australia picked it up after the first two sets and just played so solid after that. We lost our rhythm and got too tight. It is just really disappointing.
"There are still lots of points available, though. It is in us to play better, for sure."
Canada's coach Glenn Hoag said it was simply a case of a game getting away from them.
"Australia was very patient and we weren't able to match that patience," he said. "We became very scrappy in our play. We need to go back and see why things are not functioning."
As downtrodden as the Canadians seemed post-match, the Australians were the opposite after the impressive comeback.
"I'm really proud of the boys after today's win, especially maintaining our focus after coming so close in the first set and losing out," said team captain Aidan Zingel. "To stay with it and take it to the end was incredible, especially the younger players coming off the bench. It was a great team performance all around."
Added Australian coach John Emili Uriarte: "I love the mentality of our team players. They keep trying hard and learning from the match and putting it into practice in the next set. They showed that they have learned to get tougher and keep going when things aren't going well."
The Canadians had a tough start to the match, trailing 5-2 in the opening set, but were led back by several clean kills from outside hitter Schmitt to eke out a narrow 27-25 first-set victory.
The Australians, also known as the Volleyroos, continued to match the Canadians point for point in the early running of the second set before Canada started to pull away in the middle of the frame for a 25-20 win to go up 2-0. The home side was buoyed by several key blocks by the Canadian wall of Calgary's Rudy Verhoeff and Victoria's Frederic Winters.
The two teams continued to give the crowd of just over 3,500 a hotly-contested set to begin the third match, and this one would offer several lead changes before Australia's Adam White came up with a big block to secure what would prove to be a massive 30-28 win and force a fourth set.
The Volleyroos had momentum on their side and took complete control of the fourth with a 25-17 victory to tie the game 2-2 and send it to a fifth-set tiebreaker.
Australia kept coming in the fifth and established an early 7-4 lead before Canada fought back to tie it 10-10. However, the Aussies were able to complete their impressive comeback and win the fifth 15-13.
Canada moved up to 11th in the world rankings this year from 18th in 2013 after winning its World League pool last year and then winning a game against the top-ranked Russian team.
Canada is the top-ranked squad in its pool, followed by the Australians (14th), Finland (30th) and Belgium (37th).
It is the third and final weekend series on home soil for the Canadians in pool play, after sweeping Finland 2-0 in Calgary and then splitting 1-1 with Belgium in Vancouver last weekend.
Each team will have four games left to play, including two more against each other, following the weekend series in Edmonton.
Notes: It was just a month shy of 30 years since Edmonton last played host to the Canadian men's team, a game between Canada and the Soviet Union that drew about 8,000 spectators in 1984. Current head coach Glenn Hoag was a player on that Canadian team. ... Canada came into the match with wins in 14 of its last 19 World League matches, equalling their total number of wins from their previous 49 games. ... Australia came in with wins in two of their last four games after being winless in their first 14. Their 2-18 record gave them a winning percentage of just 11 per cent, the lowest in World League history. ... The game featured the two best diggers in Groups 1 and 2 combined in Canada's Daniel Lewis (3.00 per set) and Australia's Luke Perry at 2.52. ... Canada and Australia previously met at the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Tokyo in 2004. Australia won in straight sets en route to qualification for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.