Beach volleyball and Australia’s Gold Coast seem like a match made in heaven. And Canadian Sarah Pavan can’t wait to make some history there.
Pavan, from Kitchener, Ont., and Toronto’s Melissa Humana-Paredes are looking to win gold in the Commonwealth Games debut of the sport. Ranked No. 1 by the FIVB, they are the women to beat, although it is early in the beach volleyball season.
“We’re really excited,” said Pavan. “I know Melissa and I feel so honoured to be the first Canadian beach volleyball team to get to go. I think it’s crazy that it hasn’t been in the Commonwealth (Games) until now, especially with it being such a popular Olympic sport.”
“Any time you get to represent your country in a multi-sports games, it’s amazing,” she added. “We’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while.”
More than 60,000 tickets have already been sold for the beach volleyball competition. The only tickets left are so-called premium hospitality which start at $300.
Look at Pavan’s FIVB biography and you have to go back 24 events, almost 33 months and a former partner to find a finish in the double-digits.
The six-foot-five Pavan and five-foot-nine Humana-Paredes joined forces after the Rio Olympics, where Pavan and Heather Bansley finished fifth to match Canada’s best-ever Olympic result in women’s beach volleyball.
Pavan, who had played indoors professionally in Brazil, has a special place for the country and enjoyed competing in her first Olympics in her “home away from home.” But it was bittersweet because she believes the pair could have done better, calling fifth “very disappointing.”
“At the same time it was my first Olympic Games and I will remember that forever.”
The 31-year-old Pavan says she and the 25-year-old Humana-Paredes complement each other on the court.
“Our strengths and weaknesses definitely balance,” she said. “And even personality-wise, I’m very intense but an introvert. And Mel is equally intense but more smiley and bubbly. I think we bring out the best in each other in that way. We have so much fun on the court together. People have told us several times that they have a lot of fun watching us because it looks like we are genuinely enjoying what we’re doing.
“I think the big thing is we let each other be ourselves in both our play and personalities. And we make it work that way. It’s been a really fun adventure so far so I’m excited to see how where it can go.”
They can certainly communicate. Between them, their languages number English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.
Pavan’s volleyball resume is remarkable. She joined the national indoor volleyball team at 16, the youngest woman ever selected. She was a four-time all-American at the University of Nebraska, winning the NCAA championship in 2006 and Honda Cup in 2007 as collegiate female athlete of the year.
She switched to the beach game after Canada failed to qualify indoors for the 2012 London Olympics, partnering with Bansley.
Pavan has continued to play indoor volleyball professionally during the beach off-season, competing in China, Italy and South Korea in addition to Brazil. But she is now focusing on the beach game exclusively.
“It was a great career,” she said of playing indoors. “I got to experience a lot of amazing cultures. And more so than a tourist does. When you spend eight to nine months in a country, you really get to learn a lot about the culture and customs. I feel really fortunate to be able to do that. And all of them are so different from each other.”
Pavan’s husband Adam Schulz, a native of St. Catharines, Ont., travelled with her for many of those overseas stints, working remotely on contracts as a computer programmer. He is currently working for the AVP, the largest beach tour in the United States.
They now make their home in the volleyball hotbed of Hermosa Beach, Calif.
“When I started playing beach, that’s where my partner and I came to train,” Pavan said. “I loved it and couldn’t imagine going back to snow for five months a year. So we decided to live here and make it permanent.”
Volleyball runs in the family. Parents Paul and Cindy Pavan both played the sport at Western University and Cindy played for Canada. Younger sister Becky plays for the Canadian indoor volleyball team and has played professionally in Europe.
The Canadian women are in a pool with England, Fiji, and Trinidad & Tobago at the Coolangatta Beachfront venue in Gold Coast’s southernmost suburb. It’s only their second tournament of the year, following a fifth-place finish in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in early March.
Pavan expects the new Australian pairing of Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar to be their toughest competition. The Aussies, who went to Rio with different partners, won four events of different magnitude at the end of last season before finishing ninth in Fort Lauderdale.
“They’re very good and we’re definitely going to have to study hard and pay attention to them to win gold,” said Pavan.
Sam Schachter of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Sam Pedlow of Barrie, Ont., are Canada’s men’s entry at the games.