The Canadian men's volleyball team topped Puerto Rico in its opening game at the NORCECA Pan American Cup Final Six tournament in Edmonton on Tuesday.
The young Canadian squad — comprised of Volleyball Canada NextGen Program players and athletes that played on Canada's 11th-place team at the U21 world championship in Bahrain in July — got off to a quick start but were tested by Puerto Rico during a 3-1 win (25-15, 25-20, 23-25, 25-20).
Team captain Isaac Heslinga of Orangeville, Ont., led the way for the Canada with 23 points in the match, including the game-winning attack to secure victory in the fourth set. The 21-year-old Heslinga was named the MVP of the 2023 Pan-American Volleyball Cup tournament in August after helping lead Canada to a gold medal in Mexico
Heslinga helped Canada get off to a great start in a comfortable first set victory, leading his team with six points, including one of Canada's four aces in the set.
Puerto Rico was much more competitive to start the second set, jumping out to a 7-4 lead. The Canadian squad was able to fight back and tie the game at 7 thanks to a fantastic dig from Winnipeg's Darian Picklyk, leading to an attack point by Jacob Sargent of Lethbridge, Alta.
From that point, neither team was able to gain any separation in the set until Canada put together a 6-0 run after Puerto Rico tied the game at 17, highlighted by back-to-back blocks by Sargent to make it 23-17. Canada then saw the second set out 25-20.
Canada fends off Puerto Rican comeback bid
The Canadians were locked into another close battle in the third set until a 4-0 run by Puerto Rico made it 14-11. Isaiah Mamer of Wilkie, Sask., responded with three attacks to tie the game back up at 16.
Puerto Rico was able to secure the victory 25-23 to extend the match, led by Antonio Feliciano, who led all scorers with nine points in the third frame.
In yet another tightly contested set in the fourth, Canada was able to gain some distance on a 5-1 run to make it 17-13, keeping its distance en route to a 25-20 win.
Mamer of the University of Saskatchewan was a key factor once again, contributing six of his 13 total points in the clinching set.
The University of Alberta was well represented both on the court with the combination of fourth-year Heslinga and second-year Sargent (eight points), as well as the stands with many fellow Golden Bears teammates in attendance.
Klistan Lawrence led Puerto Rico with 16 points in the match.
Canada returns to the court on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET against the Dominican Republic, which is coming off of a 3-0 loss against the U.S. earlier on Tuesday. The game will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
The six-team tournament is rounded out by Mexico and Cuba, with the Mexican squad posting a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Cuba to open play at the Edmonton EXPO Centre.
All six teams will face each other in round robin play between Tuesday and Saturday, with first-place, third-place and fifth-place matches scheduled for Sunday.
Christopher Byam, Bow Island, Alta.
Jonah Dueck, Rosenort, Man.
Reeve Gingera, Calgary
Mason Greves, Calgary
Isaac Heslinga, Orangeville, Ont.
Zachary Hollands, Victoriaville, Que.
Liam Kristjanson, Oak River, Man.
Isaiah Mamer, Wilkie, Sask.
Darian Picklyk, Winnipeg
Jonathan Portelance, Sherbrooke, Que.
Jacob Sargent, Lethbridge, Alta.
Kaden Schmidt, Mississauga, Ont.
Cory Schoenherr, Waterloo, Ont.
James Vincett, Calgary