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Different women, devastating beach duo; Pavan, Humana-Paredes take on Tokyo

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Sarah Pavan has felt some of Melissa Humana-Paredes rub off on her during their five-year partnership on the beach volleyball court.

"She is definitely the more extroverted, outgoing, social, for lack of a better term, bubbly person," Pavan said.

"She has allowed me to smile on the court, which old Sarah never would have done. Smiling on the court, what?"

Pavan of Kitchener, Ont., and Toronto's Humana-Paredes are the reigning women's world beach volleyball champions heading into the Tokyo Olympics.

The global pandemic pushing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to 2021 put distance on their straight-sets win over Americans Alix Klineman and April Ross in Hamburg, Germany, in the 2019 world final.

The Canadian women continue to bring different elements to their partnership. 

The intense, calculating Pavan with the devastating finish her six-foot-five frame affords her meshes with the tenacious, extroverted Humana-Paredes digging balls out of the backcourt.

"Given our team's defensive structure, having a bigger person at the net and a smaller person in the back court is ideal," Pavan explained. 

"I'm left-handed and she's right-handed and given the size of the court we play on, that's very helpful attacking-wise."

Humana-Paredes, who isn't a shrimp at five-foot-nine, calls herself the duo's hype woman.

"On the court, a lot of it is letting each other be who they are," Humana-Paredes said. "I'm a little bit more outgoing. I have a little bit more zest and joy that comes out on the court and she's more introverted, very intense and can be reserved at times. 

"She's this graceful, very intense player and knows what it takes to play at that level."

Pavan and Heather Bansley of London, Ont., reached the quarter-finals of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where Humana-Paredes was a Canadian team alternate in the event of injury.

What Humana-Paredes didn't know was Pavan had been watching her on tour. When the Pavan-Bansley partnership dissolved post-Rio, Humana-Paredes was stunned by Pavan's invitation to join her.

"I was very impressed at her ability to read the game, her instincts on the court," Pavan said. "Her blocker on the court whom she was playing with was much smaller than I am, but she was still able to make really good defensive plays.

"I just felt she had the ability to be one of the top defenders in the world."

Humana-Paredes always knew of Pavan, who had played indoor volleyball on the national team.

"A few years back, she switched to the beach games, which was amazing," Humana-Paredes said. "It opened a lot of people's eyes to the transition between indoor and beach volleyball."

Together, they've reached 14 finals and won seven, including the 2019 world title and a 2018 Commonwealth Games gold.

"Having gone through a partnership in the past, I learned a lot about myself and what it means to be in a two-person team," Pavan said. "I had come from a sport where it was a team of 12. 

"Taking those learnings and lessons from that experience, I was better equipped to give Melissa what she needs while staying true to who I am."

Pavan and Humana-Paredes were among the first Canadian athletes to secure a Tokyo berth with that world title.

Beach volleyball preliminaries start July 24, the day after the opening ceremonies, at Shiokaze Park near Odaiba Marine Park.

The Toronto team of Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson will also represent Canada in women's beach volleyball. Canada didn't qualify a duo on the men's side.

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down international beach volleyball for months last year. Pavan and Humana-Paredes faced the added wrinkle of living in different countries.

Pavan, 34, is based in Hermosa Beach, Calif., with her husband Adam Schultz. 

Humana-Paredes, 28, lives in Toronto, but makes frequent trips to Victoria where her boyfriend Connor Braid trains with the national men's rugby sevens team.

Pavan and Humana-Paredes didn't even see each other for most of 2020.

"We were probably one of the few teams that were forced to be apart for so long," Humana-Paredes said. 

When Humana-Paredes arrived in California shortly after New Year's Day to train with Pavan, she knew it would be weeks before she returned to Toronto.

"I reach for perspective when I have some lonely moments," Humana-Paredes said. "I'm so fricking happy I can compete again and train and I'm really living out my dreams."

And when she sees her teammate smiling on the court, so much the better.

"I have noticed that's she's able to enjoy the moment more and be in the moment more," Humana-Paredes said. 

"If I can have that impact on anyone, let alone my own partner, where we're in this insane journey together, then I know I'm doing something right."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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