Bansley y Wilkerson hit reset button ahead of Tokyo


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, October 22, 2020 – The 2020 beach volleyball season has looked nothing like what Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson had envisioned. While some teams have been able to compete on national tours and even get limited international activity at events like the 2020 King of the Court and this year’s European Championships, the Canadians have spent most of the last seven months training at home. 


Wilkerson was able to compete in the three-tournament American AVP season between July and August, but Bansley hasn’t appeared in an event since last November, at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour 4-star Chetumal Open in Mexico. 


With the Toronto winter on the horizon, the Canadians have decided to head south to Rio de Janeiro to enjoy what they hope will be a prolific two-month training camp in Brazil.


“The first week here has been really great,” Bansley told Beach Volleyball World. The 33-year-old defender, who finished fifth at the 2016 Rio Olympics with former partner Sarah Pavan added: “I haven’t been able to train outdoors since Brandie and I were here in March for another training camp. Mentally it has been a very challenging year for me, with no opportunities to compete and with training being very limited in Toronto. I really felt the need to be able to train at a high level and properly prepare for next year and we wouldn’t be able to recreate the training conditions we have here in Canada at this moment.”


There are good reasons for their repeated trips to Rio as the Canadians, who rank sixth in the provisional FIVB Olympic Ranking, started working with Brazilian coach Rico de Freitas at the beginning of the year. He is the very same coach who led Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas to victory at the 2015 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships and to silver at the Rio Olympics.


A long-time World Tour coach, and son of the legendary volleyball coach Bebeto de Freitas, Rico has not been able to work with Bansley and the 28-year-old Wilkerson for as long as he would have liked, so their daily sessions on the sands of the Leblon beach have been intense.


“I am thrilled and very grateful to be working with Rico and his team,” Bansley added. “It is very humbling to have a world champion and Olympic silver medallist coach who wants to work with you. His training style is different to what I have experienced in the past and I am really enjoying the intensity and high level at practice every single day. I feel we can accomplish more and be more efficient on the court.”


Their coach's mission is to give the Canadians the tools they need to bounce back after a disappointing 2019 campaign. 


In 2018 the pair secured three gold medals and six podium placements, which took them to the top of the FIVB World Ranking. But the following year, they had to settle for just three bronze medals and a 17th position at some of the most important tournaments on the calendar, including the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships, the Vienna Major and the FIVB World Tour Finals.


“Brandie and I have developed and gained a lot of experience together over the past four years,” Bansley reflected. “We have had moments proving that we can be one of the top teams in the world, but have also struggled with consistency. We are using this training period to help us prepare for whenever tournaments resume. Brandie and I are approaching this extra time as an opportunity to be even better and more prepared for the Olympics than we were at the start of the year, as sort of a reset. We still have a lot of room to improve and I am confident that Rico will help us grow and push us to where we want to be in time for us to achieve our Olympic goals.”


With the 2021 FIVB World Tour calendar still to be released and uncertainty concerning international travel expected to continue, the Canadians have decided to remain in Brazil until December, where they hope they can play on the country’s national tour or at least practice with some of the top Brazilian teams. 


Future trips to Rio are not off the table either. 


“I believe Rico’s experiences and successes as an Olympic coach with a medal will be extremely valuable to us. He knows how to successfully prepare for the Olympics both physically and mentally,” Bansley, a three-time FIVB World Tour Best Defensive Player added. “Because of travel restrictions, Rico is not able to come to Toronto, so we have committed to training in Rio. We are committed to doing everything we need to be the best we can in Tokyo, and if that means spending most of our preseason in Rio or outside of Canada, we are prepared to do that.”