The Canadian Beach Volleyball program has taken major strides in the past few years. From the Youth and Junior ranks all the way up to the FIVB Tour, the future looks bright on the sand for the Maple Leaf. After a promising 2013 season, 2014 did not disappoint with success for both women and men at all levels, and multiple events with Canadians finishing on the podium.
With careful optimism, Canada sets up for what could quite possibly be one of the most important in Canadian Beach Volleyball history. Only two years out of the Rio Olympics, results have never been more important with world’s best gunning for one of 16 direct byes to Copa Cabana Beach.
The points, and not to mention the cash, at this year’s World Championships in The Netherlands will be crucial in the race to Brazil. The Dutch seem to be pulling out all the stops and are setting to host one of the biggest FIVB Beach World Championships ever, and the world's best will be out in full force to be crowned Champions of the World.
Finally, the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games will put beach front and centre for Canadian sports fans. All tickets for the event are already sold out, and organizers have indicated that beach volleyball will be a central focus of the Games. The team that qualifies will not only have the opportunity to represent Canada and compete for a medal, but they’ll also have the chance to capture the hearts of a nation. In a year before the Olympics, that can’t be overstated.
With all the extracurriculars, it’s easy to forget about the FIVB and NORCECA Tours.
The FIVB continues to grow with the addition of new sponsors, and is getting ready for their busiest summer yet with nine Opens, five Grand Slams, four Major Series, not to mention the World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale. With events all around the world, there’s little doubt beach volleyball is growing. The NORCECA Tour will also be running again, with a stop coming to North Bay, On for the second-year in-a-row.
Meet the Team
Heading into the season, a few teams stick out from the rest. For the men, Ben Saxton (Calgary, Ab) and Chaim Schalk (Red Deer, Ab) have been Canada’s most consistent pair the past couple of years. A fifth-place finish at the Sao Paolo GS and their first FIVB medal, a bronze at the Parana Open, closed another strong season in 2014. In 2015, they’re looking to prove they’re amongst the best in the world, and have their sights set firmly on Rio.
This well-rounded team has taken down some of the biggest names in volleyball, and could be in the verge of establishing themselves with the best in the game.
The other male team to watch for is Josh Binstock (Richmond Hill, On) and Sam Schachter (Richmond Hill, On). They blew up at the end of last season, grabbing a Canadian Championship in Halifax before a fourth at the Sao Paolo GS and Canada’s first gold medal in over a decade at the Parana Open. They even picked up a silver after in Qatar.
Now they’re looking to prove they’re no fluke. Can the momentenum from the end of last season continue to this year? We sure hope so!
The women are looking no less impressive either. With three teams battling in the Main Draw, will this be the year we finally see a Canadian women on the podium?
Arguably one of the best Canadian indoor players of all-time, Sarah Pavan’s (Kitchener, On) transition to the beach has been slow but steady. Paired with Heather Bansley (Waterdown, On), they've climbed to a Top 20 ranking in the world, and have no intention of stopping.
Four Top Ten’s in 2014, three coming at Grand Slam’s, this team competed with the best without an off-season of training. This year, Pavan came back from her indoor contract in Korea at the beginning of January, and the two were able to put in a solid off-season of work this year.
For their rookie season on Tour, things could not have gone better for Melissa Humana-Paredes (Toronto, On) and Taylor Pischke (Winnipeg, Mb). Qualifying for the Main Draw of four Grand Slam’s would be enough for most 22-year olds, but the pair decided to take the next step with a 9th at the Stare Jablonki GS and a 5th in Sao Paolo. They even capped it all off with a Gold at the NORCECA Championships. For their efforts, Melissa was named the 2014 FIVB Rookie of the Year, a first for Canadian Beach Volleyball.
Now it’s time to see if their ready to compete for a full season. Can they steer away from the sophomore-slump? Given both of their individual ability to win at every level, it’s quite possible we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg with this duo.
Jamie Broder (Victoria, On) and Kristina Valjas (Toronto, On) are another team with the ability of striking at any time. Having started their career in the qualifier, they’re now a consistent team in the Main Draw. Taking another step forward last season, they finished the year strong with three-straight Top Ten finishes. After a strong off-season, they’re looking for a fast start to solidify themselves amongst the top teams in the world.
Sam Pedlow (Barrie, On) and Grant O’Gorman (Scarborough, On) will be another pair to keep an eye on. Splitting time beween the World and NORCECA Tours, they had two Top Ten’s in the FIVB and grabbed a pair of medals on the NORCECA Tour. One of the most physical teams on the sand, 2015 could be the breakout year for this pair.
Caleigh Whitaker (Sharon, On) and Kacie MacTavish (Sharon, On) is another team that splits time between the two tours. Similarly to Sam and Grant, they picked up a couple Top Ten's and a pair of medals.
Journeyman Christian Redmann (Oro Station, On) embarks on yet another campaign, this time teaming up with rookie Felipe Humana-Paredes (Toronto, On). Redmann was forced to pull Felipe up from the FTC when Maverick Hatch (Comox, BC) suffered an injury in pre-season training. With Redmann's veteran presence to give Felipe a helping hand at the beginning of his career, only time will tell if things have fallen into place perfectly for this pair.
Dan Dearing (Toronto, On) and Garrett May (Scarborough, On) could be Canada's most intriguing team. Having both spent time in the past few years playing in the CIS and recovering from injury, this team has enormous upside. Dearing is the most athletic guy on Canadian beaches, hands down. With the ability to touch over 12 feet, he can play at the same height as the best in the world. May for his part has long been touted as someone to watch. He won the 2011 U21 World Championships with Sam Schachter and led Western to their best-ever finish in the CIS, a silver in 2014. Now it's time to prove he can get it done against the best. Finishing the year with a Gold in Chula Vista and a fifth-place at the Mangaung Open gives plenty of reason to be hopeful for 2015.
Okay yes we know, you can't have teams of three in beach volleyball, but all three of these ladies deserve a mention. Victoria Altomare (Toronto, On) and Julie Gordon (Barrie, On) paired up last year for the first time and had a good learning season, with Gordon new to the beach game. A summer on the NORCECA Tour resulted in two 17th's at Open's in the fall, hopefully hinting that more should be expected from these two. Gordon is pairing up with Brandie Wilkserson (Toronto, On) at the first event in the Cayman Islands, so we'll keep on eye on that. Wilkerson is one of the most physical members of Canada's team. Her natural leaping ability makes her deadly at all times.
Cam Wheelan (Barrie, On) and Mike Plantinga (Langley, BC) are another young, athletic team with the ability to do damage. They're looking to improve on a 2014 where they picked up a couple medals on the NORCECA Tour last year