Canadian duo Pavan, Humana-Paredes eager for rematch with American rivals

Driving alongside the Atlantic Ocean through Long Beach, Calif., is now a familiar journey for Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes.

With Pavan driving and Humana-Paredes riding shotgun, the picturesque ocean view disappears as they turn toward Interstate 405 and speed past gas stations and Mexican restaurants on their way home.

It’s been the routine for the reigning beach volleyball world champions after every match of the Champions Cup, the first beach volleyball event held since COVID-19 brought the world to a halt. And it will continue this weekend in the third and final tournament where many hope to see them in a gold-medal match with American rivals April Ross and Alix Klineman. 

“There are days when we drive home and we’re really disappointed with a certain play or a certain set or how a match went,” Pavan told CBC Sports. “It’s always the alternative rock station on and we usually take some pauses to sing a bit, but we’re usually covered in sand, having some snacks, and chatting.

“And we’ll each talk about the things we personally felt like we didn’t do well or could have done better.”

Even when they win, the conversation doesn’t change much.

“Sometimes we’ll be like, ‘How did we do that? We weren’t on our best game,'” said Humana-Paredes. “It’s hard for us to praise ourselves.”

However, last week’s tournament complicated that dynamic because being critical of their performance is futile: Pavan and Humana-Paredes knew there was no way they’d perform at the level they’re accustomed to and they admit it’s been a bumpy start. So their expectations were set accordingly, looking to ease back into competition and fall back in love with the game, a far cry from their typical goal of winning.

WATCH | Mad Libs with world champions:

Did you do Mad Libs as a kid? Well, here’s Team Canada athletes playing… with a twist. It’s hilarious. Trust us. 3:10

But that’s easier said than done when you’re face to face with your biggest rivals and competing on national television for bragging rights and a sizable cash prize.

“We’re definitely going after it, working our hardest and leaving it all out there but, normally, we’re much more critical and are pushing so much harder,” Pavan said. “And so just finding that balance of understanding and acceptance and that urge to be better.

“It’s been an interesting thing to work through at this time, but I think we’re handling it in the right way.”

They’ve had some brilliant moments and strung together great plays that showed glimpses of their pre-quarantine form. They finished third in week one, second in week two. But even top-three finishes are a vulnerable place to be for the world champions.

‘Doing it pubicly’

“The challenging part is normally when we’re going through this process, we’re not doing it publicly,” said Pavan. “This is a typical, early season look for us, but nobody ever sees that. They usually see the finished product.

“So that’s been really challenging to deal with because we know it’s there, we just haven’t been able to train enough to let it shine through.”

But with their mental game prepared and momentum on their side, Pavan and Humana-Paredes plan on finishing on top in this weekend’s tournament. If they make the gold-medal match they’ll likely face Ross and Klineman who have dominated this event, winning their first two tournaments and beating the Canadians each time they’ve met.

WATCH | Canadian pair loses in AVP finals: 

Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes dropped a straight sets loss to Alix Klineman and April Ross in Wilson Cup final. 1:06

“Sarah had a really great moment on camera,” said Humana Parades, smiling. “We were coming off a technical time out, it was 11-10, and Sarah said ‘You know we’re playing at a zero out of 10 right now and it’s still a close score.’ And she was so right, we were not playing our best and we were still able to compete.”

“That’s almost more frustrating than being at a good level and being close, so we’re using that as motivation. The fire inside me is burning and I’m sure it is inside Sarah too.”

The Canadians say the key to staying competitive with the Americans, who are making very few mistakes, is managing their serve. 

“It’s disappointing when we don’t lay them at the level we want to,” said Pavan. “But we’re really lucky because our coach is there with us every step of the way and he’s gathering so much information, noticing what changes they’ve made against us and what we need to do to take it to the next level.

“We’re using this as an opportunity, we absolutely want to beat them because we don’t want to lose to them three times in a row.”