The Swatch FIVB World Tour Finals kicked off with a bang Tuesday at Polson Pier in Toronto.
Two former partners and Olympians, Heather Bansley and Sarah Pavan, competed against each other with new partners. Heather Bansley and up-and-comer Brandie Wilkerson won the Canadian country quota match to advance to the Main Draw at this week’s US$500,000 World Tour Finals tournament.
Bansley and Wilkerson scored a 2-0 (23-21, 21-13) win in 35 minutes over Melissa Humana-Paredes, who represented Canada at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games, and Pavan to advance against Laura Giombini and Marta Menegatti of Italy before concluding Pool D action Thursday (Sept. 15) against Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude of Germany.
It was also Bansley’s 29th birthday today.
“It’s a pretty good birthday present,” said Bansley, who is originally from Waterdown, Ont., but now resides in Toronto. “It’s great to play in my home city and to finish off the season here with all my friends and family. … I’m thankful that Brandie partnered with me and wanted to play the tournament with me.”
Tuesday’s country quota match was scheduled after Bansley and Pavan ended their 38-event FIVB World Tour partnership after placing fifth at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The pair was eliminated by eventual gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany.
The 24-year-old Wilkerson and 23-year-old Humana-Paredes were developing their skills the past two international seasons with Julie Gordon (12 FIVB World Tour events together) and Taylor Pischke, respectively.
For her part in today’s match, Wilkerson shook off early nerves and came on strong in the second set.
“I think that initially I was a bit shaky, but having someone like Heather be a foundation for the team allowed me to get into my rhythm and flow,” she said, “…and just making it about our game was great. I’m pretty happy with our result.”
Kitchener native Pavan said: “We’ll be back in 2017. There are definitely adjustments that all new partnerships have to make. They played really well – I don’t want to take anything away from them… We weren’t expecting miracles today, we only practised together for a few days.”
All of Canada’s other beach volleyball Olympic teams will be playing in this tournament in the same combinations as in Rio. Josh Binstock and Sam Schachter are in Pool C against the U.S. Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk play Thursday against the second U.S. entry.
The SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals venue is located at Polson Pier. The winning Beach Volleyball teams will share the $100,000 first-place prizes. The women’s finale will be played Sept. 17, and the men’s gold medal match is set for Sept. 18.