San Juan, Argentina, June 2, 2018 - Stephen Maar delivered an intense performance as Canada gave their finals push a major boost with a hard-fought victory 3-1(25-22, 25-18, 24-26, 25-23) over Argentina in the Volleyball Nations League.
Maar blasted 16 points on offense and contributed further with two key blocks, but his role as the main source of his team’s spirit and fire was even more significant.
Midway through the third set the towering wing spiker was involved in an angry exchange with Argentina star Facundo Conte, after Maar glared through the net at his rival following a thundering winner. Conte reacted angrily and Cameron Bann got between them to help things eventually calm down.
The San Juan crowd naturally sided with the hometown player, but Maar was happy to play the villain as long as the final outcome was the one he wanted - namely Canada’s second straight win of the round.
He was assisted by Jason Derocco, whose offense pulled in 13 points as Canada continued its impressive form to climb to seventh in the VNL table.
Conte, with 23 total points, was the best performer for Argentina, who were unable to collect their long awaited first win of the campaign. Agustin Loser was an all-round threat and scored 15 but the home side could not find the consistency needed to get over the line.
It was entertaining stuff throughout, with plenty of desire on both sides. The opening set was punctuated with a number of extraordinary rallies, highlighted by one that saw Bann dive headlong from outside the end line before Bruno Lima tipped a neat winner.
Some fine serving from Loser closed Canada’s lead to 22-20 but then Marr stepped up, teeing up set point with a sensational block then finishing the frame with a powerful spike.
Argentina got ragged in the second, throwing away an early 6-2 lead with a spate of attacking errors, and Canada’s smooth control was paying dividends. Ryan Sclater’s defense and serving was a factor as Canada pulled clear, and it was Schlater’s booming spike that put his team 2-0 up.
The third set had everything, with the most unforgettable moment being the spicy confrontation between Maar and Conte. It happened at 10-10, and while the conflict was swiftly resolved it was not forgotten, as evidenced by Maar drilling a spike directly at Conte two points later.
By then Canada looked headed for a straight sets win, especially after Cristian Poglajen blasted one long to put his team 23-20 behind. But then it was Conte’s turn to show off his ability, closing the deficit with two precise strikes before a team blocking effort pushed Argentina ahead - with Loser closing the set to complete the comeback.
The fourth could have been a similar story. From 23-19 behind, Loser and Conte spearheaded another revival to 23-23, with Maximiliano Savanna’s accurate serving also making a big contribution. However, after a timely sideout, Canada converted their first match point as a return error undid Argentina’s good work, and condemned the team to a fifth straight loss.
Argentina’s final chance to get something out of their home stretch comes against Italy on Sunday, while Canada will seek to continue their victorious run against Iran.