OSAKA, Japan — The road back to prominence has been a long and winding one and it figures to feature a few more potholes along the way before the transformation is complete.
After enduring some rather lean years during much of the past decade, Canada’s national women’s volleyball program is experiencing another growth spurt and coming back out of its shell.
Simply by qualifying for the prestigious 2010 FIVB World Women’s Volleyball Championship, the current group of high-performance athletes is making a statement that the program’s best days might be in front of it, rather than behind.
“This is a huge step for us ... we’re heading in the right direction,” said Team Canada middle Tasha Holness, a five-year veteran who is second on the team in terms of international matches. “With the goals we’ve set, so far we’re on track. I feel like we’re not so much the underdog anymore. People are starting to recognize our name and doing well here too will totally put us more in the spotlight, for sure.
“A lot of people in this group have been together for four years and this is the tightest our group has been for awhile. We’re starting to build that base again and that is going to carry us forward to the Olympics and to build the program and keep it stable.”
Although this is the first foray onto the world championship stage for all of Team Canada’s players, there’s reason to believe these are merely the first steps on the road to recovery.
“Every year, we’ve gotten better. Even in terms of Volleyball Canada, the Team Canada office (in Winnipeg) and the team, the entire program has gotten better,” said Team Canada captain Tammy Mahon, who has endured plenty of ups and downs during her nine seasons in the program. “The support from the Canadian Sports Centre and the sports science side of things has been huge, they’re learning a ton about being a high-performance athlete.
“We’re taking all the right steps to getting where we want to go.”
Where they want to go over the next few days is the second round of competition here at the world championship.
That alone would bring a boost in terms of gaining valuable international experience and also provide a bump in Canada’s 24th-place world ranking.
An increased sense of purpose in training is important, but nothing can compare to squaring off against the top teams in the world.
“We need to get more and more experience at the high level,” said Team Canada head coach Arnd Ludwig, who is into his second season guiding the program. “We need to get more and more matches. We’re not a young team, but we’re inexperienced. None of the players have played in the world championship and they need to get these experiences.
“You can see by the way that they work that they want to do more and they want to reach the goal.”
That long-range objective is a berth in the 2012 summer Olympics in London, England.
Canada has qualified for the Olympic Games three times, but not since placing ninth in Atlanta back in 1996.
“It’s a goal and it’s doable,” said Ludwig, who recognizes the challenge is daunting with the likes of the United States (second), Cuba (sixth), the Dominican Republic (11th) and Puerto Rico (13th) all inside the NORCECA (North America, Central America and Caribbean) Volleyball Confederation with them.
“We can’t do it all in one year because the other countries are working too.”