Toronto, Ontario, Canada, September 8, 2016 - The imposing and sometimes fierce stare of Sarah Pavan will be surveying the other side of the Beach Volleyball court as she takes her position at the net.
For the first time in her career, she’ll have to deal with Heather Bansley on the opposite side. No longer will the 6-foot-5 Pavan and her wingspan be providing a comfort zone for Bansley to play defense and convert attacks into points.
The two Canadians, coming off a fifth-place finish at the Rio 2016 Olympics, will go against each other on Tuesday (September 13) in Toronto in order to qualify for the final spot in the women’s portion of the SWATCH World Tour Finals.
The duo decided to split up after the Olympics, and they’ve both chosen new partners. Bansley will go to battle with Brandie Wilkerson and Pavan has picked up Melissa Humana-Paredes and the new teams will meet in a one-match showdown to see who will join 11 other of the best women’s teams in the world to chase the US$100,000 top prize in the year’s final FIVB World Tour major tournament of 2016.
Humana-Paredes, 23, is one of Canada’s rising stars. She first gained prominence in 2011, when she joined Victoria Altamonte and placed second in the FIVB Under-21 Age Group World Championships behind rising Swiss stars Nina Betschart and Joana Heidrich in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Since, Humana-Paredes has teamed with Taylor Pischke and that duo has been a mainstay on the FIVB World Tour and captured three fifth-place finishes. They have also won three NORCECA titles
But Pavan, who said last week that she and Bansley had “maxed out their capacity” as a team, considers Humana-Paredes as her partner not only for this week but when she returns from her indoor commitments to begin the 2017 FIVB World Tour.
“Mel is very young still but she’s had a lot of success even at a young age,” Pavan said. “I see a great potential in her the way she reads the game, and her physical abilities are great and I think she will only get better over the next few years. She complements the things I’m able to do on the court very well and given some time, we’ll be able to do some great things together.”
Wilkerson, 24, has played only 24 FIVB World Tour events with a high finish of ninth in this year’s ASCIS World Series of Beach Volleyball FIVB Long Beach Grand Slam with Julie Gordon. The 5-10 Wilkerson is a native of Lausanne, Switzerland.
Facing off against Bansley will certainly be the talk of Toronto as an intriguing preliminary to the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals, but Pavan and Bansley appear to be comfortable with their decision to make the switch.
“It ended on good terms,” Pavan said. “We had a good run in the Olympics and at the beginning of that tournament, we played some of the best volleyball we had played together. I think we were both able to feel good about the performance we put together in the Olympics. Unfortunately it, ended the way it did.”
After four consecutive victories, Pavan and Bansley were knocked out of the Olympics by eventual gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany. The Canadians simply ran into the hottest team in the world at an early knockout stage.
German Laura Ludwig (left) celebrates after Rio quarter-final win over Canadian Sarah Pavan
“We did, and it’s tough after playing so, so well during the whole Olympics and then kind of faltering in that quarterfinal match, but Laura and Kira were on fire and they deserved to win,” Pavan said. “We both found some consolation knowing we lost to the gold medalists and nobody could stop them.
“I wish her the best with her future partner and in the rest of her career.”
The SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals could be a watershed moment for Canadian beach volleyball as the country tries to validate the success of having four teams in the field chasing gold.
“Beach Volleyball is having a moment now in Canada and with the attention we got together during the Olympics, it will definitely raise some hype and awareness for the sport,” Pavan said. “So there is a positive coming out of it. There is a great chance to show our country some great young players that are coming up as well.”