Canadian beach volleyball players Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson wasted no time getting their magic back. They were separated, and even rivals, then here they are again reunited. Since unity is strength, they no longer give themselves the right to make mistakes. They have to win, and they do.
The sun was about to set in Latvia when Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes joined the Zoom meeting last week.
A few days earlier, the Canadian duo had won bronze at the Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 tournament in Ostrava, the most prestigious tournament category after the World Championships.
When the two 30-year-old athletes looked back on this first medal won together since their union, formalized in October, their complicity left no doubt. In their eyes, this medal is the ultimate reward. What they are most proud of, however, is having fought their way onto the podium since the qualifying round.
They won their two qualifying matches. They went on to maintain a perfect record in the group stage, all while not letting a game slip away. Afterwards, they beat the Swiss Nina Brunner and Tanja Hüberli for third place. “It was like having three tournaments in one,” said Humana-Paredes, voted best waitress of the tournament.
This was their third side-by-side tournament on the Beach Pro Tour. “At every tournament, we believe we have a chance to get on the podium. I think it’s realistic,” continued Wilkerson, the tournament’s top blocker. Humana-Paredes agrees: “We’ve been looking forward to being on the podium for a long time, because we know we deserve to be there. We work so hard! »
Last Sunday, the Canadian duo did even better by winning their first gold medal, at the Jurmala Challenger, in what was only their seventh tournament together. The Canadians have lost just one set in six games during the tournament. They were on an erra to go and they took advantage of it.
Before being reunited by Volleyball Canada in the fall, the two players enjoyed enormous success on their own. Along with Sarah Pavan, Humana-Paredes was a world champion and two-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist. Wilkerson won the silver medal with Sophie Bukovec at the last Worlds in addition to finishing fifth at the Tokyo Olympics.
The relationship between Humana-Paredes and Wilkerson is more than a decade old. They grew up together at York University. When they talk about their chemistry, their eyes sparkle.
“We respect each other, we love each other, we support each other and we admire each other,” Humana-Paredes says, looking at her teammate in genuine complicity. She even chose to use the word “electric” to describe their chemistry.
In beach volleyball, the partners absolutely have to be in tune. In the heat of the moment, you have to know how to communicate without speaking. React without thinking. Follow your instinct and assume. It is there, the real strength of a duo.
“You have to learn not to take everything personal, on or off the pitch. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable or to argue, says Humana-Paredes. To talk about how sometimes we’re not always at our best and it’s time for each other to do a little more. And Wilkerson adds that “not everyone takes the time to do this soul-searching work.”
On the pitch, Humana-Paredes and Wilkerson are furiously engaged and dangerously combative, but they do so with a surprisingly laid-back attitude. Quickly, they imposed their own signature.
“We want to have fun while playing, blows Humana-Paredes. It’s just that we love this sport so much! We want to have fun on the pitch and make good plays. We try things, we take risks. I don’t want to be on the pitch if there isn’t good energy or a good atmosphere. In fact, we want to impose this atmosphere and I think we do it really well. »
On the court, Wilkerson allows herself to be herself, and that’s the beauty of her sport, she believes. In volleyball, it’s impossible to lie or hide anything. “When you watch volleyball, you can see in every game that every player has something authentic and that’s what makes our sport attractive. »
When Humana-Paredes and Wilkerson reunited last fall, it was to boost Canada’s chances of medaling at the Paris Olympics a year from now. While some athletes avoid talking about the Games or pretend not to think about it until they are officially qualified, the Canadian duo is unfiltered: “Of course we are thinking about it,” says Wilkerson.
“That’s our ultimate goal,” adds her teammate. We set our goals based on that and it guides our entire process. It would be naive to say that we don’t think about it. It helps us prepare for each tournament in a specific way. »
Nevertheless, having been paired precisely with the aim of getting on the podium does not worry them unduly: “There is a pressure to win a medal at all levels. It engages us in an exciting process. We are ready for this challenge and in fact, it is an honor to be in this position where we can fight for such an award,” concluded Wilkerson.
If pressure is a privilege, traveling the world with friends is too. And they are well aware of it. Humana-Paredes and Wilkerson therefore want to profit from the experience. Like a treasure hunt in which the journey is as inspiring as the reward. But if it ended with gold around your neck, that would be even better.
The Beach Pro Tour will be in Montreal from July 26 to 30. Parc Jean-Drapeau will host the first Elite 16 tournament held in Canada. ” Oh my God ! We can’t wait! Wilkerson exclaimed, clasping her hands together. The two beach volleyball players haven’t played at home since 2016 and they can’t wait to put an end to this nasty streak: “We’ve been waiting for this moment and we’re telling all the international teams how fantastic this tournament will be. Everyone on the circuit is excited,” she said. Humana-Paredes has already been deposited in Quebec, but never in Montreal. “Quebecers,” she says perfectly, naming the gentleman in French, “are so good at organizing sporting events. She also expects a huge following: “It’s fun to play in Canada, but specifically in Quebec, where everyone seems to really like the sport. »