Plucky Canucks ready

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

Team Canada enters this prestigious women's volleyball tourney ranked dead last in its pool -- and second-last overall.

Not only that but a back injury has felled its captain, Melissa Raymond, who will miss the entire 2007 NORCECA Women's Continental Championship, which starts at the Investors Group Athletic Centre today.

But don't count these plucky Canucks out.

"It's a good thing to go into a tournament like that because you want to turn some heads, you want to make a statement," suggested Stacey Gordon, a.k.a. the Paul Duerden of the national women's squad. "You don't want to be ranked first and kind of sit on your hands a little bit. We've got something to prove and we've got to go out there and play hard."

Canada is ranked No. 27 while Costa Rica is No. 23 and Puerto Rico, 20. Cuba is No. 5.

"It's just a ranking," said Tammy Mahon of Holland, Man. "Against Costa Rica (today), if we play at our level, that's an easier game for us. When we play against Puerto Rico, it should be a battle and when we play against Cuba, too. So, put us in that situation and we like to fight through those games."

Canada plays Costa Rica today at 6 p.m. and Puerto Rico tomorrow at 8 p.m.

Then the Canadians finish the round robin against Cuba on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

The top three teams in each pool advance to the playoffs.

"Absolutely, we have to beat Costa Rica but the team to beat in our pool will be Puerto Rico," said Dauphin's Stephanie Penner. "That will be a huge game for us. We've always done fairly well against Costa Rica and that's the team we're going to come out strong against. But we've had an ongoing battle with Puerto Rico the last few years. They've really improved over the past year and so have we. We really want to beat them."

The top two teams will advance to the World Cup in Japan for the first Olympic qualifier.

"It's all stepping stones," said Gordon, a hitter who can play either side. "We've got five games in five days and it's a grind. You've got to play hard from Day 1 to Day 5 and reach our ultimate goals in qualifying for the Olympics ... There are a lot of good teams here but this is our chance to do it. We're hosting and you kind of have that a little bit in your favour but this is go time for us."

The Canadians are hoping for big, boisterous crowds to spur them on.

"It's very exciting for me," said Penner, a backup setter. "It's very exciting for the team. It's huge playing in our hometown, finally. It's been way too long since we hosted this tournament. We've done our homework and we're ready to play."

Mahon, who had been relegated to a backup role when Gordon arrived, will start.

"We're all really excited and anxious to get started," Mahon said. "We've been looking forward to this tournament all summer."

And there is a certain comfort zone to playing on your home court.

"It's definitely an advantage," said Gordon. "You never know what you're going to get when you go to other countries -- the food, accommodations, the travel. We've been here for a while and we're comfortable so, that should give us a little bit of an edge. But it's volleyball, you've got to play hard. We've got to come out swinging (today)."

The Canucks will count heavily on Gordon to swing hard.

"She's a good player and she has lots of energy," said Team Canada coach Naoki Miyashita. "She energizes the rest of the team. She's a good all-round player. She plays good defence, good serve-receive and shooting. And she is consistent. That's how Team Canada needs to operate."


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