Long Beach, Calif., August 20, 2015 - Heather Bansley figured at 5-foot-7, the only career choice for continuing in volleyball would be on the beach.Sarah Pavan, a 6-foot-5 indoor volleyball star, had to confess she knew nothing about beach volleyball. But she had that dream of going to the Olympics.Fate intervened for them their way in early 2013, when Bansley’s partner on the FIVB tour, Liz Maloney, was injured. At the same time, Pavan checked in with Bansley with a question.“I didn’t know anybody that played, I didn’t know what to do,” said Pavan, one of only four women to become a four-time college All-American at the University of Nebraska. “I knew she had a partner and I said, ‘Listen, I’m interested in playing – do you know anybody who’s looking for a partner?’ She called back and said ‘Me.’ “I said, ‘Oh, OK, that was easy.’ ”In their first tournament together, they won four of six matches in Argentina. The Canadian duo appeared to be onto something. Sure enough, the 2015 season has proved that beyond what only they could believe.Entering this week’s ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball, a grand slam stop on the FIVB World Tour, the duo ranked second in the world in points and they’ve all but locked up a spot to represent Canada in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.And they’ve also earned their way into the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals next month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where they’ll join nine other teams in a tournament that will pay $100,000 to the winner.“It’s pretty exciting,” Pavan said. “It was our goal this season to be in the top 10 Olympic rankings-wise but to be No. 2 right now, it’s definitely satisfying to know that the time we’ve put in together has definitely paid off. Obviously we want more, we’ve won silvers and bronzes this season, but OK, we’re ready for more. It’s exciting to know that our goal of going to Olympics most likely is going to happen.”Not to mention they’re piling up some cash with a chance to end their 2015 season with a huge payday.“It’s really great to see the professionalism being brought to our sport this year with the new SWATCH Major Series events and with the World Tour Final,” Bansley said. “It makes it possible to earn a living doing this and as an athlete, we love the sport, but it’s also our job and career and we want it to be sustainable. Having events like that is really exciting.”Just how did they turn things around this season to capture two silver medals and two bronze medals?“We had a preseason!” Pavan said, laughing. “The last couple years we’ve had like two weeks of practice at the start of the season just because I was indoor. This year I finished early and we actually had a couple months together before we started and that made a big difference.”They packed up from Ontario and headed to Hermosa Beach, Calif. to train. It was the right spot. In addition to their own workouts, they took on the likes of Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat, and Jen Kessy and Emily Day. The work paid off.“In preseason we were practicing with a German team and we beat them and they went to their coach and went ‘Oh, we’re so bad,’ ” Pavan said. “And their coach is like ‘Well, no, they’ve gotten a lot better.’ I think it was hard at the beginning for teams to accept the fact we had gotten better and they were putting it all on them.
“It is satisfying this year especially because we’ve gained more respect from our opponents.”