Sarah Pavan, Heather Bansley only interested in Olympic podium
Canadian beach volleyball duo ‘don’t want to squander’ Rio opportunity
By Mike Brophy
To watch Sarah Pavan and Heather Bansley work together on the beach volleyball court, you would think the Canadian pair have been playing together for years.
Pavan, who is 6-foot-5 and 155 pounds, handles the action at the net while the 5-foot-7, 145-pound Bansley chases down balls in the backcourt. They play off one another like a couple of old pros.
The truth of the matter, though, is Pavan and Bansley only got together four years ago and there were plenty of bumps along the path to becoming the world's fifth-ranked women's team. They will represent Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"We have had to put work into our relationship because that is essentially what it is, just the two of us on the court," Bansley said. "We have shared these really intense moments and we have to know how to communicate with one another and how we respond to pressure."
The pair joined forces after Pavan decided to retire from Canada's national indoor team. She emailed Bansley, whom she had never met, and asked if she knew anyone who was looking for a partner. Turns out Bansley was too, so they hooked up.
That's when the hard work began. Pavan, of Kitchener, Ont., had played four years of indoor volleyball at the University of Nebraska, and then with Canada's national team, but knew very little about the beach game. They had only two weeks of practice time together before heading out on the beach circuit.
Pavan was shocked at how difficult the transition to beach volleyball was.
"I had been playing indoor for 16 years and the indoor skills and movements had become like second nature to me," Pavan said. "Although beach and indoor are similar, the way the skills are performed are quite different. It was really hard to train my body to alter the movements that were so natural to me forever. Also the whole strategy for beach is so much different than it is for indoor. I had to learn the ins and outs of the tactical side."
During particularly tough times Pavan would ask her husband Adam, "what have I got myself into?"
Bansley, from London, Ont., turned out to be not only a good partner, but a good teacher, too. After playing indoor volleyball at the University of Toronto, making it to the CIS championship in her final year, Bansley turned to beach volleyball.
"We had never met, but I knew about her reputation as a player and after deciding we had the same goals I asked her if she wanted to team up with me," Bansley said. "We finished ninth in the Grand Slam in our first tournament. It was kind of up and down for us. For Sarah it was developing those skills for the beach and for me it was about trying to improve my game. We had to find our rhythm as a team."
Pavan, 29, injured a toe at a Grand Slam event in Rio, causing the team to drop out and to take some time off from training. However, in their next Grand Slam event in Russia in late May, Pavan and Bansley, 28, finished third.
The pair is training in California with three more events scheduled before the Olympic Games.
While Bansley started off as the teacher, Pavan has taken more of a leadership role on the team. Bansley said there were some hurt feelings along the way, but the pair has come to a firm understanding on what each brings to the table.
"We are different people and it hasn't always been easy," Bansley said.
Added Pavan: "I am definitely more vocal and emotive than Heather is, so I see myself as kind of taking the lead in determining the feeling and the vibe on our side of the court. I am very assertive as to what decisions need to be made at certain times when we are calling plays."
Bansley said their goal is to win a medal for Canada in Rio. Anything less will be a disappointment.
"When we are playing to our potential, we are up there with the best teams in the world," Bansley said.
Pavan admitted when she first started playing beach volleyball four years ago, her goal was to make it to the Olympics. That has changed.
"Then the longer I have been playing, I am not interested by any means to just show up," Pavan said. "We've put too much work in. I don't want to squander this opportunity."