Lausanne, Switzerland, August 11, 2020 – On top of the world in more ways than one, the reigning world champions, 2019 Most Outstanding Women’s Team and current FIVB World Ranking leaders Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada are Volleyball World's Team of the Week.
Sarah Pavan was born into a family of volleyballers in August 1986 and is just about to turn 34 years of age. Like most beach volleyball players, the 1.96m blocker started off with indoor volleyball in her childhood years, and rose up the ranks to become a member of the Canadian national team.
Following her Olympic dream, in 2013 Pavan switched to the sand, pairing up with Heather Bansley, and they made it happen. Three years later, the pair played at the Rio Olympics, where they did not lose a single set before their quarterfinal encounter with champions-to-be Laura Ludwig & Kira Walkenhorst of Germany.
"The Olympics is something I've been pursuing my entire life. It has been the ultimate goal since I was old enough to comprehend what it really meant. If I didn't try beach volleyball I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life," Pavan told CBC at the time. "But at the last Olympics it was incredibly disappointing to miss a medal. For the longest time, just getting there was the goal. It was elusive for so long. But then you get there and it's crazy how quickly your goals evolve."
On the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, Pavan & Bansley achieved six medal finishes, but never quite managed to top the podium. For Sarah it happened soon after the pair split up and she joined forces with Melissa Humana-Paredes.
27-year-old Humana-Paredes was born in 1992 in Canada into a family of Chilean expatriates. Her father Hernan Humana, a former member of his country’s indoor national team, started coaching beach upon moving to Canada and led a Canadian men’s duo to Olympic bronze in 1996.
“I was four years old then and beach volleyball, the Olympic journey and the Olympic dream were influencing my life,” the 1.75m-tall defender said. “That’s how I got started and that’s what sparked my journey in the game.”
Humana-Paredes started playing beach volleyball at the age of 12. From 2009 through 2014, she represented Canada at a number of Age-Category FIVB World Championships, winning one silver and two bronze medals. She debuted on the World Tour in 2011, but it was not before 2014 when Melissa Humana-Paredes & Taylor Pischke became regulars.
It was only after teaming up with Sarah Pavan, however, that Melissa won her first World Tour medal. That was a 2017 Rio de Janeiro four-star silver at their second appearance on the Tour as a pair.
"Four years ago I was just stoked to be given the opportunity to play with Sarah. I had a lot I wanted to prove, but I wasn't sure how I was going to rise to the occasion. Our development as a team and my development as an athlete surprised me, and continue to surprise me, mostly with how quickly we gelled and how quickly we began fine-tuning our game," Humana-Paredes added. "I honestly think our first tournament in Brazil in 2017 was pretty eye-opening because our very first time playing together at the World Tour Finals in 2016 was a bit of a mess. We put in serious work in that off-season, but we didn't have anything to measure our progress up against. So when we began competing and beating good teams in Rio, I felt we were definitely headed in the right direction.”
Pavan and Humana-Paredes did not have to wait much longer to win their first World Tour title. Some six weeks later, they topped the Porec Major five-star podium.
“Our first gold was an absolute dream. Winning no longer became just a possibility, but a goal and standard," Humana-Paredes said.
The Canadian team became final four regulars and over the course of three seasons compiled an impressive World Tour showcase of five gold, four silver and one bronze and peaked at the 2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Hamburg, where they claimed the title after beating USA’s 2-0 (23-21, 23-21) in the final.
“2019 was definitely a dream season,” Pavan exclaimed. “We were able to achieve one of our biggest athletic goals in becoming world champions and made history in the sport in our country. Winning some other key events along the way as well made 2019 a year to remember. I think our team really settled into a place of comfort in our relationships and routines, and that made a really big difference for us on the court. We had some ups and downs during the World Championship, we had our backs against the wall in the semifinal, but we always found a way to fight through and come out on top. Pulling from that experience in Hamburg will serve us in a big way in future events, especially during the tough moments.”
Winning the World Championship gold also qualified a Canadian pair for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“The winning feelings have made us hungrier and more focused ahead of Tokyo,” said Humana-Paredes. “Heading in as world champs, it's easy to pick us as the favourites, but I think there are many teams in the top 10 that could also be selected as favourites in their own right. The only thing we can do is just focus on what we can do better, because that's all that we can control."
"We’re very happy that we have our spot in the Olympics,” Pavan commented in an interview for Beach Inside. “I know that many teams are really stressed right now and I’m just very grateful that this is something we don’t have to think about. Just knowing we’re going no matter what is nice.”
The coronavirus pandemic temporarily put a stop to the team's quest and postponed the Olympics by a year, but the Canadian standouts recently made their comeback winning a silver and two bronze medals on USA’s AVP Champions Cup three-stop tour in July and August.
“We were really ready for the 2020 season and I had this feeling it was going to be amazing, so to have it stop and the Olympics postponed was really difficult. I wasn’t in a good place mentally in the first weeks, but I’ve since found peace with the situation,” Pavan admitted. “I know that our volleyball skills won’t go away and that our relationship is very strong and I trust that. I really think we will still be ready next year and maybe this is just a great opportunity for us to become better.”
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