Ottawa, Canada, June 9, 2020 – New experiences are an important element in the development process of any professional athlete and Canadian opposite Kiera Van Ryk is trying to make the most of the opportunities she has had and will continue to have in the early years of her young career.
The 20-year-old hitter has been a part of her country’s national team since 2018, but it is over the last 12 months that she has faced some of the most challenging situations a volleyball player can experience at both the international and club levels.
Van Ryk had moments of joy and glory with the Canadian national team in the summer of 2019 when the North Americans won the FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup. The opposite was the fourth-best scorer and the third-best attacker of the tournament, which ended with a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic in Lima, Peru.
In that same year, the team also secured bronze medals at both the NORCECA Championships and the NORCECA Champions Cup, but struggled at the Tokyo Volleyball Qualification tournament in Russia, losing to the hosts and South Korea. In January, the Canadians had another chance to secure their spots in Tokyo and return to the Olympics for the first time since Atlanta 1996, but setbacks to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have put their dreams on hold for another four years.
“That was definitely a disappointing tournament for all of us on the team,” Van Ryk reflected in an Instagram live interview with Volleyball British Columbia. “We had a great training block and we were playing the best we had in a very long time. Going to the tournament we had really high hopes, we knew it was a possibility and we had this 'we got this' mentality. We just didn't play to our abilities. Knowing how we played in training we knew we could have competed a lot better with the Dominican Republic for that spot. We're looking forward to using that experience for the future years and to grow from it and hopefully we can qualify in a couple of years.”
Van Ryk also experienced a quick step up at the club level. After playing for the University of British Columbia for two years, she had her first professional experience at Zanetti Bergamo in the star-studded Italian League.
The rookie was immediately faced with the tough task of competing for a starting spot with Polish star Malwina Smarzek, but she was still able to gain valuable experience on court in each of the team’s 19 matches and to score 64 points in Bergamo’s campaign, which was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was super cool to play against some of the best in the world and to learn from some of the best in the world,” she commented. “I got to play quite a bit and that made me learn and grow as a player. I just got a better vision of the court and I feel I’m better in basically everything. It's a different world over there and playing at a very high level will certainly help me with the national team, so the plan is to return to Europe and play there for another year.”
The pandemic also postponed what would have been the highlight of Van Ryk’s 2020 international season. With their victory at last year’s Challenge Cup, the Canadians qualified to compete at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League for the first time, but with the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the tournament, they will have to wait another year to join the volleyball elite.
With all the players currently under social distancing rules in Canada, the team has not been able to train together in several months now, but they’re doing what they can to start their preparation for the 2021 VNL as early as possible.
“The Volleyball Nations League is a big tournament for us and we want to be as strong as possible when we get there,” the 1.88m-tall opposite remarked. “We're really looking forward to the opportunity of playing some very high-level games and these are the ones that will prepare us for the Olympic Qualifiers and Olympics going forward. We're obviously not able to practice right now, so we're trying to work on the pains and aches all of us have and also on developing the mental side of our games. That's the goal for the summer.”