It was only the Argentians and Americans that were really going to challenge Canada in the men’s draw of the recent Pan American Games volleyball tournament.
Not that Canada is scoffing at its bronze medal. But the home team truly believed the stage was set for a gold medal run in the Pan Am Games.
“We wanted gold,” said captain Fred Winters, who’s back in Saanich this week to visit friends and family. “It was the right setup for us, we had our A team, we were feeling good and we had home court. We felt we should at least be in the finals.”
Unfortunately, the draw didn’t go their way. Canada met Argentina in the semifinal, and the perennial top-10 team in the FIVB world rankings brought their A team, to boot.
U.S.A. lost to Puerto Rico and Brazil, and even though Brazil beat Argentina in the round robin, Canada’s belief was reinforced.
“We knew Brazil had their C team, they kept their top players at home to host World League finals,” Winters said. “I think Argentina and us were the two best teams, we just [drew them too early].”
In the end, Canada fell to Argentina in the semifinal but defeated Puerto Rico 3-1 to win bronze in front of almost 5,000 fans at Toronto’s Exhibition Place.
It’s been an industrious career for the 32-year-old Winters, a one-time Claremont secondary student who was born and raised in Saanich but moved to North Vancouver when he was 16. A B.C. Summer Games athlete as a teen, Winters is now in his 13th summer with the national men’s volleyball team, following which he will return to Brazil to play another year of pro for Sada Cruziero.
Volleyball has taken Winters to the far corners of the world, the only continent he hasn’t competed in is Africa. The pro game has taken him to Europe, Asia and South America. He’s played internationally for Canada in North America and Australia.
For now, Winters has two weeks off until the national team begins training again on Aug. 13 in preparation for September’s World Cup in Japan. It’s the first of three Olympic qualifying opportunities in Canada’s future.
“The World Cup will be a great experience but it’s not so likely we’ll finish top two [necessary for an Olympic berth],” Winters said. “More important for us is the four-time Continental qualifier coming up in January.”
Otherwise, there’s a last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament Canada could attend in the spring, but no one is talking about that, he said.
Winters was one of many Greater Victoria athletes to earn medals at the Pan Am Games. Lambrick Park grad Jesse Hodges won gold with the men’s baseball team, track cyclist Evan Carey won gold in the men’s team sprint, Oak Bay’s Maddie Secco was part of the women’s field hockey bronze, St. Michaels University School grad Liz Fenje won gold in the women’s rowing pair, Vikes rower Kai Langerfeld won gold in the men’s four and eight (the latter with Michael Evans) and Vic City Rowing Club alum Rosie DeBoef won gold in the double. Both the Langford- and Saanich-based men’s and women’s rugby teams won gold, including homegrown players Phil Mack, Sean White and Mike Fualiefau, with the men’s side. Swimmers Ryan Cochrane (1,500m free, 400m free) and Hilary Caldwell (200m backstroke) won gold with Cochrane sharing bronze in the 2x400m men’s relay with Alec Page, while Jeremy Bagshaw took a bronze in the pool as well.