The pause, so slight, so innocuous, but present nonetheless, said more than words could. And, to be fair, Melissa Humana-Paredes did put a nice verbal spin on hers and Sarah Pavan’s quarterfinal loss against Brooke Sweat and Summer Ross in the FIVB Fort Lauderdale event earlier in the year.
She called it thrilling. “But …” and then came the pause, ever so brief, just enough to know that a fifth place for Canada’s top team, even in an FIVB Major, even in the first big tournament of the year, is nowhere near this team’s expectation. And justifiably so.
In their previous six international tournaments, their worst finish had been fourth, in a run that included a silver in Poland, bronze in one of the top events of the year in Gstaad, and a gold in Porec.
“I can tell you guys are cringing about it,” Tri Bourne said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.
“We don’t want people to think ‘Oh, fifth, terrible,’” Pavan said. “Like, for all intents and purposes, it is a good finish but our goal is to be in the semifinals or on the podium every tournament, because that means we are playing well. Fifth is not bad, but we have high expectations.”
It hasn’t taken long for those expectations to build, and then build some more, and then build on top of that. This is just the second year of the Pavan-Humana-Paredes partnership, and in that short time they have already raced to the top of the FIVB rankings and finished on a podium in six different countries, three of those podiums resulting in medals of the gold variety.
“We kind of became addicted and wanted it to happen all the time,” Pavan said. “Even though we are in a second year and every team is elevating their level, we still have been able to hold onto that spot. And we still have so many things we want to get better at and that we’re working on and we know that we can still get so much better so we’re excited about that. The first year was about laying the foundation, now it’s time to find our identity as a team.”
As it can go in a search for identity, and switching sides, and switching partners, there are inevitable stumbles along the way. And as it goes with exceptional, world-class athletes, sometimes those stumbles, such as a fifth place in one of the biggest events of the year, could be seen to some as accomplishments.
And, of course, sometimes those stumbles may seem more obvious, such as their upset at the hands of Delaney Knudsen and Jessica Sykora in the AVP New York qualifier a week ago.
“We’re having some ebbs and flows,” Pavan said, as Humana-Paredes laughed in the background. “Some ups and downs, which I think is normal in the second year of a partnership. We are having moments where we are playing great and amazing and we are having moments where we finished the game wondering ‘What the heck just happened? What were we doing?’
“Obviously, we always want to win. We all do. But I’m glad it’s happening now because we do have time to work out those kinks and have those hard conversations because we’re always learning and always looking at the opportunities in front of us. So yeah, it’s been a little up and down but heading into this next phase of the season, we’re looking to get our feet under us and make some big strides.”
Those strides will, however, be taking place exclusively on the FIVB, and no longer on the AVP. According to Pavan, due to a new rule instated by the USAV, unless the AVP, or any domestic tour, pays a fee to the USAV for each event featuring international players, said international players will not be permitted to play on the AVP Tour.
“This has never been a rule before,” Pavan confirmed. “So yeah, Mel and I talked about it and if we were in the AVP’s position, we would find it hard to reason paying that much money too.”
Twelve hours prior to New York, Pavan and Humana-Paredes didn’t know if they were even allowed to play. So they missed their initial flight from Canada to New York because they weren’t sure. Then they moved it back and missed their next for the same reason.
Then they got the OK from the AVP. They were good to go.
So they woke up at 3 a.m., hopped on a plane at 6, landed at 8, rolled into Manhattan at 9, snuck in a quick nap, grabbed some oatmeal, jumped onto the court and attempted to play the world-class volleyball they were accustomed to and expected to play.
“We’re not going to make excuses,” Humana-Paredes said. “Those qualifiers are deadly. They are crazy. We had three games within a span of three or four hours, which I haven’t done since youth. It was definitely a challenge, both physically and mentally.”
Indeed. Physically, they – somewhat hilariously – may have made it more difficult on themselves, mixing up creatine and electrolytes (“Kids,” Pavan said, laughing, “don’t take creatine.”). Mentally, they were playing a brutal qualifier with no sleep, little food, no warm ups – and with a freeze rule Humana-Paredes had never experienced before.
And though the loss is fresh, and it is not difficult to see the disappointment, they cannot help but laugh a bit at the mania of it all, from the missed flights to the quick nap to the accidental nutritional mishap.
“It was definitely not our finest,” Humana-Paredes said. “It was really unfortunate because it was my first AVP, you’re on Pier 25, you can see the Freedom Tower in the background — gorgeous, it’s just beautiful. You wanted to soak it all in and get the whole AVP experience. We were bummed we couldn’t get to do all of that.”
They’re bummed with fifths. They’re bummed they can no longer play on the AVP.
But they’re infectiously excited about what the future has in store for their nascent yet impressively successful partnership. They’re excited about Olympic qualification, which begins as early as this fall. They’re excited about a three-week FIVB trip beginning next week in Poland. They’re excited for events in Vienna and Gstaad and Germany.
It’s actually a bit difficult to find any aspect of life about which they are not excited.
“We’re still learning so much,” Humana-Paredes said. “That’s comforting for us and exciting for us because we have so much more that we need to improve on and that we can improve on and I think our potential — it seems limitless right now.”