Heather Bansley makes 'smooth transition' after beach v-ball split
Canadian Olympian to play ex-partner Sarah Pavan on Tuesday at World Tour Finals in Toronto
Heather Bansley is excited to end her beach volleyball season at a high-profile event in her home city, has enjoyed her two weeks training with Brandie Wilkerson, but cautions the partnership could be short-lived.
"We're only committed to this tournament," Bansley said over the phone ahead of Tuesday's match against former teammate Sarah Pavan at the FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto. "I wanted someone who was prepared and playing and training all summer. I wanted someone I knew would be competitive."
Bansley, who turns 29 on Tuesday, split from Pavan after four years following their quarter-final loss at last month's Rio Olympics. Bansley and Wilkerson will face Pavan and her new long-term partner, Melissa Humana-Paredes, at 5 p.m. ET to determine which team plays in the main draw, starting Wednesday.
Twelve tandems, including fellow Canadian Olympians Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas, will play for the $100,000 US top prize at Polson Pier (formerly the Docks Waterfront Entertainment Complex).
A Toronto resident, Bansley is looking forward to competing in front of family and friends, saying she'll spend the fall months deciding on a future partner with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in mind.
Bansley has spent the past two weeks learning about Wilkerson – both on the sand and off. A Toronto native, the 24-year-old Wilkerson is one of the younger athletes at the World Tour Finals and recently reached the last 16 of the Long Beach Grand Slam.
She's a competitive person and we can push each other to be better and faster.- Heather Bansley on new partner Brandie Wilkerson
This season, she posted nine top-five finishes in 14 tournaments with regular partner Julie Gordon of Barrie, Ont.
"Training has gone really well," said Bansley, at five-foot-seven the shortest women's athlete at this week's event. "Individually, I think we're both prepared and it's been a smooth transition.
"Brandie is very athletic and a big blocker. She's a competitive person and we can push each other to be better and faster which is important."
Bansley and Wilkerson have mostly trained on the sand doing a mix of technical and individual work to implement a system and smooth out any potential communication issues. They have also worked with other teams in Toronto to simulate competitive game situations to get a flow of play.
Communication is No. 1
"Brandie's very smart and we're both able to dissect the game a little more than keeping it simple," Bansley said. "We have the added benefit of knowing who we're playing [in advance] rather than learning the night before."
Communication, Bansley added, will be of the utmost importance along with establishing defined roles.
"There needs to be continual feedback about what's good, what's not working, what can be improved," she said.
Bansley and Pavan are two introverts and quite different in personality, with the former calm and quiet and Pavan more assertive and aggressive during competition.
"I always want to improve," Bansley said. "I'm a quiet, introverted person and that's one area I always need to work on. Speaking up a little more, being a little bit more extroverted and standing up for myself."
A week ago, Pavan said the fact she never won a tourney with Bansley was one reason for parting ways. They had six podium finishes in international play and steadily rose in the world rankings to fifth entering the Olympics.
"Teams split up and dissolve all the time in our sport," Bansley said, adding she feels extra motivation playing Pavan in their first match as ex-partners. "We know each other's strengths and weaknesses very intimately. I think it'll be an exciting game."
Bansley, who doesn't have plans to speak with Pavan before Tuesday, wants to show Toronto more beach volleyball on an international stage coming off the Olympics.
"I think it will be equally as competitive as Rio," she said, noting Rio gold medallists and world No. 1 Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany will be competing, as are Americans April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brazil's Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca, who have combined for 24 gold medals on the World Tour.
"Every team on the World Tour is competitive and you have to fight through every match."
Tomorrow is the big day! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TorontoFinals?src=hash">#TorontoFinals</a> kick off at Polson Pier at 5 pm! Can't wait to see you there! <a href="https://twitter.com/SwatchMajors">@SwatchMajors</a> <a href="https://t.co/7tBuTd9uZh">pic.twitter.com/7tBuTd9uZh</a>—@SarahPavan