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In an unlikely matchup, Canada beats Canada in women’s volleyball

Canada's Sarah Pavan passes a ball during a women's beach volleyball round of 16 match against her compatriots Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. Canada won the match. Canada Lost.

Petr David Josek/AP

Canadians have faced each other in competition at the Olympics many times over the years. More often than not, however, it has been in events where there are other countries at the starting line as well. It isn't very often that two teams from this country go head-to-head in an event that will end the medal dreams of one of them.

But that was precisely the scenario that played out here on Saturday in the round of 16 in women's beach volleyball. And it felt as odd as it looked.

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As matches go, there wasn't a great deal of excitement in the one that pitted Sarah Pavan and Heather Bansley against Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas. Pavan and Bansley took both sets easily, 21-16 and 21-11. They took the first six points in the second set and looked as dominant as any team has here, including the Brazilians.

At 6-foot-5, Pavan is the tallest woman in the tournament. That isn't a meaningless novelty. She has emerged as one of the most dominant players in the game. Her net presence is commanding and intimidating and is the foundation of her team's powerful defence. Her much-smaller teammate, 5-foot-9 Bansley, kept several rallies alive on Saturday with some ovation-producing gets, digging out attacks that she later turned into points.

They now move on to the quarter-finals and there isn't a team in the tournament anxious to play them.

After the match was over, reporters wanted to talk, naturally, about what it was like for the players to face off against an adversary from their own country. The answers were telling.

The first person to broach the topic was Valjas, who played five years on the same University of Toronto volleyball team as Bansley. Listen carefully to her words.

"They came very well prepared today," she said. "It's a mind battle as much as a physical battle out there, especially when you're playing your own country."

She was admitting, essentially, that looking across that net and seeing two players dressed in bathing suits with Canada on them was odd; so much so that it created a mental challenge that Valjas, at least, had to deal with. How much, if any, did that head game contribute to the loss, we won't know. I doubt much. They lost to a team that is on fire at the moment.

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But it is still instructive to listen to Pavan answer the same question: how weird was it to look across that net and see two Canadians?

"We both aspire to do very well here but as far as it being different, I can't speak for them but for us it was a normal tournament, you know, one day at a time," Pavan said. "We didn't really put more weight on this match than we did any other."

She went on: "We're two separately functioning entities. We don't really hangout normally. I honestly don't think anything about this was different."

So, there you have it from the mouth of the winner: business as usual; no big deal; sorry it had to be another Canadian team we walloped but that's life.

I don't know about you, but to me that is just a little badass – in a good way. Yes, it's the Olympics but at the end of the day it's all about winning. Yes, it's too bad that two Canadian teams, two good Canadian teams, had to meet so early in the tournament. It would have been nice if it could have been the semi-finals or the finals. But let's not dwell in the realm of fantasy.

It needs to be said that Valjas and Broder played well here. And we shouldn't forget they lost to a team that could be playing for gold before this tournament is finished. Valjas and Broder were both highly complimentary of the state of Pavan and Bansley's game. "I'm sure they are going to go far in the tournament because they are playing really, really well right now."

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She might have used three or four 'reallys' actually. I lost count.

Beach volleyball is supposed to be the sport that the Brazilians own and that the United States can play nearly as well. It is not supposed to be a game that kids from Canada are good at. Bansley and Pavan are changing that view. They are as focused and locked-in as two competitors can be.

"Our goal when we came here was to win a gold medal and be on top of the podium," said Bansley, without a hint of irony. "We're feeling good right now."

As well they should.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More


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