An old adage in sports is that your best players need to be your best players, and that was certainly the case for the Canadian women’s volleyball team in their 3-0 victory over host nation Japan, Wednesday night at Makuhari Messe Hall.
British Columbian captain Danielle Ellis, Albertan Heidi Peters, and Saskatchewan’s Julie Kozun combined for 46 of Canada’s credited 60 points over their three-set sweep, including Kozun’s dramatic spike on Canada’s match-winning point to punch their ticket to the playoff round.
Canada plays China in the semis on Friday, with the winner guaranteed a medal.
Team leader Ellis, 29, was her usual well-rounded self against Japan, pacing the side in digs with six and accumulating 10 points off the attack, including a ferocious spike at the net to put Canada up 23-20 in the third and final set.
“Getting to the semi-finals of the Paralympics started as a dream back in Rio 2016 after our seventh-place finish,” Ellis said after Canada finished up group play. “And after five years of hard work and dedication, from every member of this team, we made it.
“I believe in each woman here and I know how much they have put into competing at the Paralympics and I am so proud to sit next to them on the court. We’re here and we’re ready to push to be the best version of ourselves. One game at a time!”
That one game the Canadians put in their rearview mirror ultimately belonged to 26-year-old Peters.
The Neerlandia, Alberta, native was dominant with nine aces on the day, eight of which came in the final two sets to close the Japanese out. She now possesses an overwhelming lead in the tournament scoring race by 75-43 over the next closest player, teammate Ellis.
The highest-ranking Chinese player on that list is Xu Yixiao in fourth, although China’s overall depth and clinical precision in their serving has them as the clear favourites in the tournament.
While Canada ranked No. 1 in group play with 48 aces, they also committed 46 errors. China finished three aces short of that with 45, yet only committed five errors. This efficiency has led them to three straight victories in the group stage, all of which were three game sweeps.
Friday’s match will present a significant challenge for Canada, but one they’re certainly eager to take on.
“We got the job done and met our first goal of the event, qualifying for the semi-final,” said head coach Nicole Ban. “Now it’s time to make the most of a recovery day tomorrow to prepare for our match against China.”