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Canada and Victoria's Fred Winters close in on Olympics volleyball place

Canadian captain Fred Winters of Victoria is one win away from achieving his lifetime dream of playing in the Olympics.

 

Canadian captain Fred Winters of Victoria is one win away from achieving his lifetime dream of playing in the Olympics.

A victory today against Cuba and the 33-year-old Islander and his national men’s volleyball teammates are off to Rio de Janeiro this summer.

It would be the first Olympics for Winters after failed attempts in three previous cycles. Canada hasn’t been to the Olympics in men’s volleyball since 1992 at Barcelona.

After an opening win on Friday over world No. 24 Mexico, the No. 10 Canadians (2-0) moved a step closer to Rio with a 25-16, 25-22, 25-23 victory on Saturday over No. 22 Puerto Rico in the final-stage NORCECA North/Central American and Caribbean qualifier for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics at the Saville Sports Centre in Edmonton. Only the No. 15 Cubans (also 2-0) stand in the way today.

At his age, Winters is a role player now, but his value to the national team was again in evidence on Saturday.

“Our sub guys really made a difference today. Fred Winters was amazing off the bench,” Canadian head coach Glenn Hoag said in a statement.

“That was a big win for us today, and if we can get that same effort [today], we’ll be OK.”

Winters knows the career stakes. It’s been a long journey to this point after being introduced to the sport at 15 in the Victoria Volleyball Association before starring at Royal Oak Middle School, Claremont Secondary and Pepperdine of the NCAA.

“It’s definitely now or never for me,” he said, on the eve of the Olympic qualifier. “I’m not going to be around [playing] for another four years. Hopefully, this ends on a positive note with Olympic qualification.”

He has been here before. Winters and Oak Bay High grad Josh Howatson came within one game of getting to the 2012 London Olympics, but Canada lost that NORCECA qualifying final four years ago to the United States in Long Beach, California.

But the biggest regional obstacle, those Americans, have been removed this quadrennial because the U.S. earned an automatic berth into the 2016 Rio Olympics by winning the 2015 World Cup.

Today’s loser between Canada and Cuba still gets a shot at Rio through an at-large last-chance world Olympic qualifier.

But that’s a much tougher route. Winters wants to get it settled today. If he does, Winters will join the expected roster of nearly 50 Island athletes at the Rio Games in August.

However, the dream is shattered for standout women’s national volleyball team hitter Shanice Marcelle of Victoria, out of Spectrum and the Victoria Titans program.

World No. 17 Canada finished 0-3 after losing 32-30, 25-17, 25-20 to No. 16 Puerto Rico on Saturday in its final-stage NORCECA Olympic tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was officially eliminated from Rio 2016 qualifying.

The men’s volleyballers today are attempting to join the men’s field-hockey players, women’s basketball squad and the Langford-based women’s rugby sevens as the Canadian programs that have so far qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics in team sports.

The Langford-based Canadian men’s rugby sevens team has its last-chance at-large Olympic world qualifier June 18-19 in Monaco while national-team GM Steve Nash’s Golden Generation of Canadian NBA players will get their last-chance Rio qualifier July 5-10 at a venue to be announced on Jan. 19. The London 2012 bronze-medallist Canadian women’s soccer team plays its CONCACAF Rio 2016 qualifier Feb. 11-21 in Texas.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com