This summer may have been the most exciting and developmentally strong for team Humana-Paredes/Pischke. We reached a number of milestones. So here’s a (relatively) short recap of Summer 2013!
1. U23 FIVB World Championships in Myslowice, Poland
Our first tournament of the summer was early June in Myslowice, Poland. It was the inaugural U23 FIVB Junior World Championships. Both Taylor and I, fresh off university exams and our indoor seasons, had a month of training before preparing for the the biggest tournament of our season (so we thought). With just 4 weeks of training, we were off to Poland! We started off strong in pool play going 2-0 versus Costa Rica and USA. We made it all the way to the semi finals where we played our rivals from Brazil, who had beat us in the quarter finals the year before in a tight match: 22-20, 22-20. We wanted revenge. It was an intense, well-played match that went 3 sets in, what felt like, 40 degree weather. The third set was probably the hardest set I’ve ever had to play. I believe the final score was 30-28 in a set that only goes up to 15. It was a hard fought battle that unfortunately didn’t go our way. We lost to them in the longest game of the tournament – it was 1 hr long, the other semi final was over in 29 minutes. We left our hearts on the court (and our legs, all 4 athletes could barely stand after the game) but we had to regroup fast because shortly after, about 1 hour (give or take a couple minutes) we were going to play our bronze medal match against the Czech Republic. With about 10 minutes of watching game tape and a couple pieces of bread in our stomaches (they wouldn’t open lunch because it was too early), we were off to play for the chance to represent Canada on the podium. This game also went 3 sets – we clearly love to give the audience a good show – but, thankfully, it ended with a difference result! In the second longest game of the tournament (56 minutes), we pulled off a win that allowed us to stand on the podium and it was an incredible feeling!
One of the most memorable moments of this experience was the podium celebration aka champagne showers! Which resulted in a beautiful podium picture – with the exception of Taylor and I trying to get the champagne out of our eyes.
2. The FISU World University Games in Kazan, Russia
A month later, we were off to Kazan, Russia to play in the FISU World University Games. This is the second biggest multi-sport game after the Olympics! Most definitely the most incredible experience I’ve been a part of. Not only were we part of one of the biggest delegations at the games (Canada) but we were able to live in The Village, similar to the Olympics! An unforgettable experience. The tournament itself was extremely professional and very high calibre teams – there were Olympic teams and strong FIVB teams at this tournament. And we were super excited to get a taste of that level. However, the format was something we weren’t used to. It consisted of pool play and then double elimination (normally it’s one or the other). We had one of the hardest pools: China, Brazil, Germany – for those who don’t know, the powerhouses of beach volleyball! In fact the Brazil team was made up of half of the team that beat us in Poland! We came out really strong and finished first in our pool! After that we won our quarter finals and then proceeded into the double elimination format (in which you have to lose twice to be officially eliminated). In our first round of double elim, we played a very strong and experienced Polish team. We lost to them in a good game, but we still have one life left! In order to stay in the tournament and make our way back up to semis, we had to play 4 more games. With our first game at 9am and our last one at 9pm, we ended up making it back into semis! This was a huge accomplishment for us and we were beyond excited to be top 4. We played Russia (their Olympic team) and put up a good battle, but lost a close one. Then played Germany in the bronze and unfortunately fell short of a medal for Canada but came out with a great result nonetheless and had an amazing experience.
A couple cool facts about the Games themselves:
-we were give full 24hr access to a cafeteria (the size of about the length 3 football fields) with free food from every region of the planet you can imagine. Not to mention, the free McDonalds!!! (sue me, I’m an athlete and I ate McDonalds)
-modes of transportation around The Village included: scooters, bikes (that you could find lying around anywhere), as well as golf carts!
-the Games had an opening ceremony that was mind-blowingly cool (mind you we missed all the entertainment because we were waiting outside until they called in each country – but I heard it was cool!) I might upload a short video of Canada walking in! It’s incredible.
3. FIVB World Tour Grand Slam in Long Beach, California
Home for a week before we decided to head of to California and play in our first ever FIVB World Tour Grand Slam! This was a pretty big deal for us. The World Tour consists of the very best team from all over the world – the crème de la crème, the Misty Mays & Kerri Walshs, the Juliana & Larissas, if you will. In fact, I grew up watching and admiring these athletes! Who woulda thought I’d have the chance to play them 10 years later. To make it to the Olympics, a team must be ranked in the top 24 of this tour – so yeah, pretty big deal. As a freshly new team, we, naturally, have the start at the bottom of the clan – think little fish, big pond (which was a new concept to us coming from a familiar circuit of the “Junior World Championships”). In order to make it into the main draw (the actual tournament), we have to play in the qualifier (a mini tournament, with a much more unforgiving format). The qualifier usually has a couple rounds of games but we were fortunate enough to only have to play one, and its format is this: you lose and you’re out, one and done, finito. Yes, teams will travel all over the world to go play one game and be out, but that’s the nature of sport. However, as luck would have it, we had to play a fellow Canadian team to make it into main draw – and those are always the toughest ones. We won that game and made it into main draw! Woohoo! We made it into main draw and were put in a pool with 3 other teams – coming from bottom, we were put in a pool with the number 1 team in the world! Now that was an experience. Definitely a warm welcome to the big leagues. That game went by fairly quickly. Next up, the home team: an experienced USA team. To their surprise, we played a very exciting 3rd setter match, which we lost but played well in! To stay alive and make it on to the next round, we had to play a young , but accomplished Italian team. In 3 sets (are you noticing a trend?), we beat them! In our first World Tour tournament, we made it onto the round of 24 – very exciting, but we weren’t done! In the 1st round of playoffs, we proceeded to play the best German team and lost to them, but overall a great first tournament! Making it out of our pool was an awesome accomplishment. Now a 17th place finish doesn’t sound impressive, but it was for us. It symbolized our first milestone on our road to the Olympics.
4. NORCECAs: Varadero, Cuba and Mazatlan, Mexico
Our last two big tournaments of our season were NORCECAs. One in Cuba and one in Mexico. NORCECA stands for North America, Central American and the Carribean. It is a continental tour where teams from all over this side of the world (excluding South America, as they have their own tour) come to compete on beautiful beaches! These are crucial for us to do well because they have lots of precious FIVB points, that a new team like us need! When one thinks of Cuban weather, they think warm, hot, humid right? When we went it was all of the above… plus the craziest winds imaginable (I’ll be sure to post a video of a rally in this weather – it’s good for a laugh). It was like playing in a tornado! The beautiful game of volleyball turned into a game of hot potato (the ball being the potato): trying to get rid of it as soon as it comes to you. The wind changed the game completely and everyone had to adapt. The team with the most ball control would come out on top. We managed to play decently well (you’ll be the judge of that in the video) and made it all the way to the semi finals. In semis we played Mexico’s best team: a very experienced, FIVB team with their blocker standing at 6,5 ft tall. There is a common conception that all volleyball players are tall, but this is rare. In a game that was fairly one sided (with the help of the wind?) we beat them! Up next: Cuba (plus their rowdy crowd). These girls are used to their environment and are very physical – Cuban’s are known for their insane vertical jump – so it was bound to be a good game. In yet another 3rd setter, we won our first international tournament!! So special to stand on top of the podium to hear Canada’s anthem!
Going to try to shorten it up a bit, but Mexico was another great result for us! As soon as we landed, you could feel the insane humidity – it was a scorcher all weekend. The locals kept insisting that “it’s not normally like this in September”, but of course it’s 42 degrees (plus the humidex) the one weekend we have to run all over the sand – but that is the beauty of beach volleyball, one must embrace every kind of weather element thrown at us. So in 42 degree weather we crawled our way up to the finals and played the same Mexican team we played in Cuba! It was a close battle, we lost unfortunately. Content with second place, our beach season was officially over.
That is a recap of the big tournaments this past summer! Overall, an amazing summer and we are both excited for what the future brings!
Thanks for reading 🙂