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Wilkerson, Humana-Paredes: Canada’s ‘ultimate dream team’ reunite for Olympic beach volleyball quest | CBC Sports

Natural partnership. Love this pair. Ultimate dream team for Canada.

This was a sampling of the feedback on Brandie Wilkerson’s Instagram account after she teamed with Melissa Humana-Paredes and beat rising American beach volleyball stars Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth in the Sept. 4 final of the AVP Pro Tour’s Chicago Open.

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

A few weeks later, Wilkerson was coy about a potential future partnership on the sand 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 a lot more of Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes after Volleyball Canada announced Friday they will be working together in a quest for a medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes eliminated at 2022 worlds:

FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships Rome 2022 quarter-finals: Canada vs. Brazil

Watch Canada’s Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes take on Brazil’s Eduarda Santos Lisboa and Ana Patricia Silva Ramos in quarter-final action 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, form new teams as the world looks ahead to Paris 2024,” Volleyball Canada president and CEO Mark Eckert said in a statement. “It will be very exciting to watch.”

Playing with Humana-Paredes in Chicago with Bukovec in attendance, said the 30-year-old Wilkerson, “was like reuniting with a friend. We’re the same age. We started our [2010-11] rookie year at York University [in Toronto] together. I’ve watched 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’ve done, so it was easy to click.”

Wilkerson, an athletic outside hitter indoors at York, was rookie of the year of the women’s team in 2011, an all-star all four years and finished among the then-Ontario University Association leaders in 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 female athlete of the year in 2012 and twice earned OUA first-team all-star honours.

“Mel and I were the only rookies that started at York and stayed in the starting lineup all four years. We were on the court all the time together and have the same circle of friends,” said Wilkerson, a native of Innisfil, Ont., 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 more of a leader and captain role. I was new to the sport and there to observe, learn and absorb, and I learned a lot from her.”

Before graduating, they were playing varsity indoor volleyball and training beach at the same time. Eventually, they pursued beach full-time and were named alternates for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“That’s where we got to know each other more personally,” Wilkerson said, “and clearly that helped us because from then on, we both had a chance to finish first in the world and do super well with our respective partners.”

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

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

WATCH | Canadians fall to U.S. duo in Paris:

FIVB Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 Paris: Canada vs United States

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, didn’t make it out of the qualifying round of 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 spent the previous year grinding it out at one-star events, quickly developed chemistry on the sand and entered their fourth tournament in June — the world championships in Rome — as the 20th seed in a 48-team field. They finished second and went on to tie for fifth in their next two competitions before Paris.

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

The winner of the 2023 world championships earn an automatic Olympic berth.

WATCH | Wilkerson, Bukovec team for silver medal at worlds:

Canada falls to Brazil in beach volleyball world championship final

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

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