Women's beach volleyball is always one of the hottest tickets for any major games, and the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games will be no different, with sold out crowds already expected for the finals on July 21st.
Beach volleyball has never been an area where Canada is known to thrive, but in 2015 that is quickly changing. Until this year, no Canadian team has ever stood a top the podium, something that seems to be a regular occurrence these days. Now, it's time to do the same on home soil.
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The ability to win isn't something you're born with; it's a skill that's learned and honed over time. Luckily, both Canadian athletes have been learning those lessons since day one, from some Canadian volleyball legends.
Taylor Pischke (Winnipeg, Mb) grew up as a gym rat. Her father, Garth Pischke, is one of the legends of Canadian volleyball. The winningest coach in CIS history for the University of Manitoba Bisons, a two-time Olympian, and former coach of the men's indoor National team, you can bet he's passed along a thing or two along to his daughter.
Before teaming up with Melissa, Taylor was an indoor superstar. Member of the Canadian National team program, she was one of the most dominant outside players in the CIS for a few years, it all culminating with a National Championship in 2014 with the Bisons. Ending her career on a high note, she hung up the shoes in favour of a bikini when Melissa came searching for a partner.
Melissa Humaña-Paredes (Toronto, On) was the other side of the coin, growing up on the beach amongst the greats of the Canadian beach scene. Her father, Hernan Humaña, is a former member of the Chilean National team and coached Mark Heese and John Child to a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Obviously, she's been around the sport more than most. You can see it in the way she moves with confidence on the court, almost knowing where the ball will go before the plays even made. Pair this to her fierce competitive attitude and wide offensive arsenal, and you get the 2014 FIVB Rookie of the Year.
At only 22-years old, this team has already made a name for themselves on the FIVB World Tour. Playing in their first full season last year, they picked up their second-straight U23 World Championship medal and ended the season with a fifth-place finish at the Sao Paolo Grand Slam and by winning the NORCECA Championships in Trinidad & Tobago.
Although a podium finish is not something to be guaranteed, one thing is for sure, this team will be a crowd favourite at Toronto 2015.
When it comes to volleyball, you can always count on Brazil to be solid, and this team is no different. A new team for the 2015 season, they've impress early with some solid results right out of the gate, including a 5th at the first Grand Slam of the Year in Moscow. Lili jumped on the scene in 2007, winning a Junior World Championship with Barbara, with whom she joined forces again in 2013, finishing every tournament in the Top Ten and finishing 3rd at the World Champs in Poland. Only 22, Carolina Maximo is a newcomer to the World Tour, but if her stellar play so far this season with three Top Ten's is any indication, she has the potential to be another top of the line product from the Brazilian beach volleyball factory.
A feisty team from Argentina, Gallay/Klug have been a solid team on the FIVB Tour over the past few years. Coming off career years for both athletes in 2014, they've started the year strong with three medals on the South American Tour and backed that up with four Top Ten finishes. They'll be looking for redemption at these games after a tough World Championships where they failed to win a game and finished in 37th. Not to mention, Georgina Klug might still have a sour taste in her mouth from the 2011 Pan Am Games, where she was knocked out by Canadians Heather Bansley and Liz Maloney.