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Cascades’ Gagnon to represent Canada at U21 World Beach Volleyball Championships

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Fraser Valley/Thailand (Dan Kinvig) – The University of the Fraser Valley men’s volleyball program is pleased to announce that Josh Gagnon has been selected to represent Canada at the U21 World Beach Volleyball Championships in Phuket, Thailand.

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Josh Gagnon /UFV

Gagnon, a 19-year-old rookie libero with the Cascades, will compete with longtime beach volleyball partner Colby Nemeth at the U21 Worlds, which run Dec. 14-19. Both Gagnon and Nemeth hail from Red Deer, Alta. and were classmates at Lindsay Thurber Secondary.

“It’s been my life goal to play for Team Canada volleyball, whether it be indoor or beach,” Gagnon enthused. “Until I have a jersey in my hand, it doesn’t quite feel real.”

Gagnon and Nemeth have been beach partners for five years, and among their highlights was a 2018 season which saw them go undefeated on the Alberta beach circuit and win Tier 2 gold at the Canadian championships. They also played on the Alberta provincial team together, and participated in a sport exchange to South Korea in the summer of 2019.

Gagnon also excels at the indoor version of the game, and signed with the Cascades in the spring of 2020. He trained with the UFV squad throughout a 2020-21 season which saw all game competition cancelled due to COVID-19, and he’s made his Canada West debut with the program this fall.

The process to pick Team Canada for the U21 Worlds was supposed to centre on a selection tournament in Toronto, but that event ended up as a COVID-19 cancellation. Instead, the tryout process went online – hopefuls had to post a competition bio and physical testing numbers. Gagnon and Nemeth also had a reference from Canadian beach volleyball star Ben Saxton, who had represented Canada at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. The duo had trained with Saxton in the summer of 2020.

“We were just stressing and waiting to see if we’d get an email or not,” Gagnon said with a chuckle. “I was talking to Colby one night about a month ago, and I was saying we should email Volleyball Canada and see if they knew when we’d get the word. We agreed that the next morning, during business hours, we’d send an email. I went to sleep, and I woke up to an email that NORCECA (the governing body for North America, Central America and the Caribbean) was letting us in. Kind of some funny timing in that way.”

While there’s more room in indoor volleyball for specialized skillsets, beach volleyball requires a great deal of versatility from its two-person teams. Gagnon, at 6’2”, serves as the defender, digging up balls while the 6’5” Nemeth – who plays his university volleyball for Trinity Western – does most of the blocking at the net. But both athletes have to be well-versed in serve-receive, setting, and attacking.

“You have to be able to do pretty much everything,” Gagnon noted. “You can’t just block, because you won’t be subbed out (in the back row) for a libero. And if you’re not a strong passer, you’ll get served off the court. But it’s also hard in the sense that you have to be mentally sharp. There’s no substitutions, there’s no taking someone off the court, and it’s really hard to hide one person on a two-person court. If you’re in the game and not performing, you just get picked on, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Gagnon is the second member of his family to represent Canada – his father Terry played for the indoor national team and wore the maple leaf at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The younger Gagnon notes that he’s living in his dad’s shadow at this point of his career, but his goals are lofty – he wants to ultimately exceed what his dad accomplished in a Team Canada jersey.

“There’s no pressure from him, but I kind of want to show him up,” Josh said with a good-natured chuckle.

“He’s very excited for me. He realizes this (U21 Beach Worlds) is such a big step towards my goal, but he’s also reminded me I’m not there yet. It’s a great step, a great opportunity to get better, but I can’t stop there if I want to beat him.

“I’m just really excited to have this opportunity to represent myself, and the Cascades, and Canada.”

Cascades head coach Nathan Bennett noted that Gagnon, with his family’s immersion in the game, “has the technique and skill level that shows he’s been playing pepper since he was three years old.”

“We couldn’t be happier for Josh to be selected and go forward representing Canada,” Bennett said. “It’s a huge honour for Josh, and it puts a spotlight on our program as well.

“In the beach game, you need to be a well-rounded volleyball player, and Josh ticks all those boxes. He’s very versatile on the floor, which is a real benefit to our team.”

Gagnon and the Cascades host the Trinity Western Spartans in their Canada West home opener, Thursday, Dec. 2 at the UFV Athletic Centre (women’s volleyball 6 p.m., men’s volleyball 8 p.m.).

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