Canadian beach volleyballers feel the love on the Gold Coast

Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Parades are the top-ranked women's beach volleyball team in the world, and they began their quest to top the Commonwealth Games podium with a statement win against Fiji on Thursday in Australia.

Pavan, Humana-Paredes using Commonwealth Games as a workshop for Tokyo 2020

Canada's Melissa Humana-Paredes, left, and Sarah Pavan, shown here at the 2017 world championships, are going for Commonwealth Games gold in Australia. (Ronald Zak/Associated Press/Canadian Press)

GOLD COAST, Australia — After the first-ever day of beach volleyball competition at the Commonwealth Games, you'd be hard pressed to name a better setting for the inaugural tournament.

Coolangatta Beach is known as one of the most spectacular beaches in the world, so it's only fitting that the No. 1-ranked women's beach volleyball team in the world is playing on its sand.

Those world's best are Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Parades, who began their quest to top the Commonwealth Games podium with a statement win against Fiji (21-5, 21-8) on Thursday.

A heavy rain shower hit the venue about five points into the first set, but the Canadians on the court — and in the stands — weren't fazed one bit.

Told about Canadian fans using the flag to shield themselves from the downpour, Humana-Parades and Pavan gushed about the support they've received.

"To be on the other side of the world, and have people still cheering for you, and be such solid supporters, [it] makes this whole experience so much more special," she said. "We really feel that support, all the way from Canada, and it's so nice to see our flag in the stands."

Talking a big game

Pavan, from Kitchener, Ont., and Humana-Parades, from Toronto, have been playing together since September of 2016. That's a relatively short time, but their match against Fiji illustrated what makes them such a formidable pairing.

Their communication during the match was excellent and incessant. Each player made adjustments while letting her teammate know where to find her on the court and what to expect next.

"We wouldn't be able to be successful if we didn't have that communication. Sarah and I have really good communication [because] we work at it," Humana-Parades said.

"You'll going to be seeing, and hearing, a lot from us all week," she added as Pavan laughed knowingly.

A most successful partnership

It's not surprising Canada got off to such a great start here on the East Coast of Australia. Since teaming up, Pavan and Humana-Paredes have finished in the top 10 of every FIVB World Tour event they've entered. They captured their first title together on — appropriately enough — Canada Day of 2017.

Perhaps rivalling the Canadians' quick success is the Australian team of Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar. That duo have gone undefeated in the six months they've spent on the Asian and FIVB tours since they joined forces.

The Australians started their tournament earlier in the day, posting a straight-sets victory over Cyprus.

Humana-Parades told reporters before the tournament that if they meet the Aussies in the playoff round, it's sure to be a tough test for the Canadians.

"I've played youth events with both Taliqua and Mariafe, I've seen them grow as athletes and they're going to be a great young pairing that will be around for years to come, which is exciting," Humana-Parades said. "But no matter what happens on the other side, should Sarah and I take care of what we know that we can do, then the outcome should be favourable for us.

"But it's going to be a battle. They've got good chemistry and they're really skillful so it'll be a really exciting final if that's how it goes."

All roads lead to Tokyo

While a Commonwealth medal is a target for the Canadians, Pavan said their ultimate goal is Olympic gold at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

"Every tournament we play is a stepping stone for Tokyo. This tournament we are playing teams we don't usually see on the [FIVB] World Tour which gives us a chance to implement some things we might be hesitant to in a big Grand Slam.

"We're using every opportunity when we step on the court to get better. Even if the score is 21-5, there are things we can take and improve upon."

The Canadians will get to workshop some more in their next match, which comes Sunday morning against Trinidad and Tobago.

They finish pool play on Monday against England, while the knockout round begins on Tuesday.


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