Big birthday for Bansley as FIVB World Tour Finals get underway in Toronto

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Heather Bansley celebrates her victory Tuesday with new partner Brandie Wilkerson/FIVB photo

The $500,000 SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto started off Tuesday with quite a twist for a couple of the home teams.

In the case of Canadian Olympian Heather Bansley, it would have been wonderful to celebrate your birthday at home in front of your hometown fans.

What’s better than that?

Qualifying for the world tour finals on your birthday in front of your hometown fans.

What’s better than that?

Defeating your former partner who just dumped you after nearly four years together while qualifying for the world tour finals on your birthday in front of your hometown fans.

That’s the kind of day that Bansley had on her 29th birthday, as she partnered with Brandie Wilkerson to defeat former partner Sarah Pavan, who is now partnered with Melissa Humana-Paredes 23-21, 21-13.

It qualified her for pool play at the first world tour event to be held on Canadian soil in 16 years.

“It was great to be playing in my home city, and to finish off this season here,” Bansley said. “Winning that first set really put the pressure on them. We got an early lead in the second set and just wanted to keep that momentum going.”

Pavan, who appears to have initiated the breakup —  FIVB interviews by Dain Blanton and Mark Heese chronicle the breakup from the respective players’ perspective — admitted it was different playing without Bansley.

“It was a little weird to be on the opposite side this time,” Pavan said. “We’re disappointed with the result but this is just the beginning. We weren’t expecting miracles by any means.”

Other Canadians hope to harness the power of the home crowd, like Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas along with Olympians Ben Saxton/Chaim Schalk and Josh Binstock/Sam Schachter.

As one might expect, the $500,0000 (USD) purse and $100,000 top prize have attracted the world’s top teams. 2016 gold medalists Kira Walkenhorst/Laura Ludwig of Germany and Alison Cerutti/Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil lead the field.

Neither silver medalist has elected to play, Paolo Nicolai/Daniele Lupo of Italy chose to rest, while Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas of Brazil have dissolved their partnership.

Bronze-medalists Kerri Walsh-Jennings/April Ross of the USA and Alexander Brouwer/Robert Meeuwsen of the Netherlands will join the field.

The USA’s Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena and Tri Bourne and John Hyden are also ready to take on Toronto.

Follow the tournament here: https://worldtour.2016.fivb.com/

Women

Pool A: April Ross/Kerri Walsh-Jenings (USA), Louise Bawden/Taliqua Clancy (Australia), and Isabelle Forrer/Anouk Verge-Depre (Switzerland)

Pool B: Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst (Germany), Ana Gallay/Georgina Klug (Argentina), and Joana Heidrich/Nadine Zumkehr (Switzerland)

Pool C: Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca (Germany), Jamie Broder, Kristina Valjas (Canada), and Elsa Baquerizo/Liliana Fernandez (Spain).

Pool D: Chantal Laboureur/Julia Sude (Germany), Laura Giombini/Marta Menegatti (Italy), and Bansley/Wilkerson (Canada).

Men

Pool A: Alison Cerutti/Bruno Oscar Schmidt (Brazil, Adrian Carambula/Alex Ranghieri (Italy), and Lombardo Ontiveros/Juan Virgen (Mexico)

Pool B: Aleksandrs Samoilovs/Janis Smedins (Latvia), Grzegorz Fijalek/Mariusz Prudel (Poland), and Alexander Brouwer/Robert Meeuwsen (Netherlands)

Pool C: Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena (USA), Josh Binstock/Sam Schachter (Canada), and Piotr Kantor/Bartosz Losiak (Poland)

Pool D:  Ben Saxton/Chaim Schalk (Canada), Evandro Goncalves/Pedro Solberg (Brazil), and Tri Bourne/John Hyden (USA)

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