Canadian medal hopefuls Humana-Paredes, Pavan start beach volleyball with easy win
Win Olympic tournament opener in straight sets over Dutch team
Under a scorching sun, brilliant blue sky and temperatures that soared above 38 C at the Shiokaze Park in Tokyo, Canada's dynamic beach volleyball duo of Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes wasted no time taking it to their Dutch opponents.
The No. 1-ranked and defending world champions took a few minutes to get their footing in the golden sand at the venue, but when they did, they were a force to be reckoned with.
Pavan and Humana-Paredes defeated the Netherlands duo of Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon 21-16, 21-14 on Saturday to open their Olympics.
"I think today we made it clear that everything we've been working on has paid off," Pavan said after the victory. "The three times we've played that team it's gone down to the wire. Today we took care of it."
The duo fell behind early to the Dutch, trailing 5-2 in the first set and looking somewhat frustrated. But after an end change Canada rallied, stringing together four straight points, the fourth a huge Pavan block at the net, to take a 6-5 lead.
She pumped her fist in the air before sharing a high-five with Humana-Paredes.
"Regardless of the empty stadium I was shaking like a leaf," Humana-Paredes said. "I was so nervous and so excited and put on a brave face."
The team talked about needing to feed off one another's energy on the court because they normally thrive on the crowd. So any chance they get to ignite one another here at the Olympics, they take full advantage of it.
Thousands of blue seats around the venue sat empty because of COVID restrictions — a similar scene at every Olympic venue in Tokyo, still in a state of emergency.
WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes win opener in straight sets:
The Canadians started to pull away slowly from the Dutch. Pavan's six-foot-five frame was a huge advantage at the net, blocking another Dutch smash to make the score 14-10.
The Dutch were visibly frustrated by Pavan's daunting presence at the net and started making unforced errors. The Canadian duo then cruised to a 21-16 opening-set victory.
"We came out a little slow just getting used to the environment, nerves, excitement, everything. We settled in pretty quickly," Pavan said.
The Dutch weren't about to go away too easily in the second set, going shot for shot with the Canadians. Canada mounted a 12-9 lead before a technical timeout for crews to rake the sand court.
Humana-Paredes then took her defensive game to a different level and at times was seemingly all over the court, digging up balls that seemed destined to touch sand.
The experience, poise and power of the Canadians proved to be too much for the Dutch duo. Pavan and Humana-Paredes finished off the match winning the second set, 21-14.
"Our game plan was on point. We executed our serving game very well and our defensive system. We were very prepared," Pavan said.
She finished with four block points and 11 attack points.
One of the key strengths to Humana-Paredes and Pavan's game is their ability to communicate. Because of the silent venue their strategy could be heard very clearly throughout the venue. They were constantly talking to one another and sharing information to each other and it slowly wore down the Dutch.
WATCH | Canadian duo 'stronger individually and as a team' in 2021:
"That's something we've been working on and it's a cornerstone of our team," Humana-Paredes said. "Our communication on and off the court, we put so much work into that. Communication is what we always come back to."
Pavan and Humana-Paredes now take on Germany in their second match of the tournament in Pool A.
There are 24 teams competing at the women's beach volleyball tournament, including another Canadian duo made up of Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson. They play China in their first game on Saturday night in Tokyo.
There are six groups made up of four teams. The top two teams from each group advance, with four more joining them in the round of 16. Then that gets trimmed down to eight teams, four teams and then the gold-medal game.
That's the game Pavan and Humana-Paredes are targeting and are off to a perfect start.
"It's such an honour to be here and surreal. It's something I've dreamt of since I was a little girl. I just want to soak it all in."
WATCH | Bell: Faster, Higher, Stronger - Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes