Wilkerson, Humana-Paredes: Canada’s ‘ultimate dream team’ reunites for Olympic beach volleyball quest

Natural partnership. I love this pair. The ultimate dream team for Canada.

This was a sampling of the comments on Brandie Wilkerson’s Instagram account after teaming with Melissa Humana-Paredes and defeating rising US beach volleyball stars Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth in the September 4 final of the ‘AVP Pro Tour Chicago Open.

At the time, Wilkerson’s regular playing partner, Sophie Bukovec, was recovering from a sprained right hand.

Weeks later, Wilkerson was coy about a potential future on-the-sand partnership with Humana-Paredes, telling CBC Sports, « She can play AVP [tourneys] and Sophie can’t, so maybe people will see us play more. »

Well, Canadian beach volleyball fans will see much more of Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes after Volleyball Canada announced on Friday that they will be working together in a quest for a medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In August, Humana-Paredes of Toronto parted ways with Sarah Pavan, her partner of five years with whom she won a world title in 2019 and a second Commonwealth Games gold medal last summer. Pavan will now team up with Bukovec, who won world silver in June with Wilkerson in their first season together.

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes eliminated at the 2022 Worlds:

FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships, Rome 2022 Quarter-Finals: Canada vs. Brazil

Watch Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes take on Brazilians Eduarda Santos Lisboa and Ana Patricia Silva Ramos in the quarterfinals at the 2022 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Rome.

“We are thrilled to see these top athletes, who have worked so hard at the highest level and know what it takes to reach the podium, forming new teams as the world looks to Paris 2024,” said the president. and CEO of Volleyball Canada, Mark Eckert. in a report. « It will be very exciting to watch. »

Playing with Humana-Paredes in Chicago with Bukovec present, said Wilkerson, 30, « was like finding a friend. We’re the same age. We started our [2010-11] rookie year at York University [in Toronto] together. I saw her be the star she is.

« To come together once, finally, on the same side of the net, there was so much appreciation for what we did, so it was easy to click. »

Wilkerson, an athletic outside-inside hitter at York, was the women’s team rookie of the year in 2011, an all-star for all four years and finished among the leaders of the Association of Universities of Ontario for points per set.

« Same circle of friends »

Humana-Paredes was a talented left side player who topped York players in her rookie season with 3.06 digs per set, was the school’s 2012 female athlete of the year and won two OUA First Team All-Star honours.

« Mel and I were the only rookies to start at York and stay in the starting lineup for four years. We were on the pitch all the time together and have the same circle of friends, » Wilkerson, originally from England, said. ‘Innisfil, Ontario. , considered one of the best blockers on the beach circuit.

« We were both extremely competitive, determined to win and fearless. I think [Humana-Paredes] took on more of a leader and captain role. I was new to the sport and there to watch and learn and absorb, and I learned a lot from her. »

Before graduating, they played varsity indoor volleyball and practiced on the beach at the same time. Eventually, they pursued the beach full-time and were named substitutes for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

« That’s where we got to know each other more personally, » Wilkerson said, « and that definitely helped us because from that point on we both had the chance to finish first in the world and to do very well with our respective partners. »

Last February, Wilkerson split from Heather Bansley a month before the latter announced her retirement. They have previously held No. 1 in the world and placed fifth at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Wilkerson said she and Bukovec immediately jumped into the competition and didn’t get a pre-season, so they decided to cut their season short at the end of September after failing to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Paris Elite16 event. They ranked ninth in the world as of October 17.

WATCH | The Canadians lose to the American duo in Paris:

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FIVB Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 Betting: Canada vs USA

Canadians Sophie Bukovec and Brandie Wilkerson take on Americans Betsi Flint and Kelly Cheng in Paris.

Wilkerson and the six-foot Bukovec, an undersized blocker-turned-defender, failed to qualify for their first tournament at the season-opening Challenger competition in Tlaxcala, Mexico.

After a fifth-place finish in April in Itapema, Brazil, the Canadians won the NORCECA San Marcos tournament in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Wilkerson and Bukovec, who had spent the previous year fighting in one-star events, quickly developed chemistry on the sand and entered their fourth tournament in June – the world championships in Rome – as the 20th seeded in a field of 48 teams. They finished second and tied for fifth in their next two competitions before Paris.

Countries can only send two teams per gender to the Summer Games. The Olympic ranking qualification period for the Paris Games runs from January 1, 2023 to June 9, 2024, with the top 12 team events counting towards the ranking.

The winner of the 2023 World Championships automatically gets an Olympic spot.

WATCH | Wilkerson, Bukovec World Championship Silver Medal Team:

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Canada loses to Brazil in beach volleyball world championship final

Brazilians Eduarda Santos Lisboa and Ana Patricia Silva Ramos defeated Canadians Sophie Bukovec and Brandie Wilkerson in straight sets to win gold at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship in Rome.

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