Warsaw, Poland, July 1, 2018 – Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson teamed up shortly before the end of the 2016 season. About a year and a half later their hard work together has started paying off with their first medals on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour. At the four-star Warsaw event, before rounding off their third consecutive podium finish, they reveal the secret of their success – opposites attract.
Heather Bansley is a well-seasoned player on the World Tour. She has played on it since 2009. In 2013 she teamed up with Sarah Pavan and in 2015 the medals started coming in. In 2016 Bansley and Pavan played at the Rio Olympics with a prestigious fifth place finish, but right after that they decided to go their separate ways with different partners.
Heather Bansley playing at the Rio Olympics
“It was a mutual decision. We both felt that we could not progress any further together and we both thought we could be more successful with somebody else,” Heather explained.
She paired up with Brandie Wilkerson.
“I absolutely think that Brandie is a better teammate for me,” Heather said. “Together we create a really positive environment on the court. We both have a really strong work ethic. We are both ready to take risks and to get better as athletes and as people. I really appreciate that in Brandie. She is a very hard worker and very honest. In volleyball these are excellent qualities in a teammate. We kind of knew when we teamed up that we are in it for the long haul, 2020 was our goal and that’s what we were working towards.”
“I am definitely grateful for the opportunity,” Brandie said. “I’ve always looked up to Heather and I’ve always envisioned myself as being a good enough partner to play with her when the opportunity came. And I think when the timing was right, it obviously worked out for us, because we both genuinely enjoy each other’s company, both on the court and off the court, but especially when it comes to training, setting goals and reaching those goals. There has just been so much learning and so much growing so fast, because I’ve had such a supportive partner that allows me to be a leader and follow by example.”
Their first medal together was achieved at the Ipatema four-star in May 2018, where they earned bronze. At their following tournament, last week’s four-star in Ostrava, they did one better – making the final, but settling for silver. Now, at the Warsaw four-star, they have already qualified for the final again and feel that they are ready to follow the upward pattern and win gold.
“It’s nice to see that our hard work has kind of paid off,” Heather commented. “Yes, our goal is to win gold, but you want to take care of each step along the way. It is really rewarding to see the things that we were working on come into action and help us in our play. We’ve been working with our coach but we still feel that we’ve got a lot to improve on, so it’s exciting to see our level of play right now, but knowing that we could still be better.”
In the Ostrava final, Bansley and Wilkerson lost to home favourites Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova, but in the Warsaw quarterfinals the Canadians took their revenge with a 2-1 win.
“We can’t deny that home-court advantage definitely helps,” Brandie explained. “We were ready for a fight, and I think it parallels our journey of growing with the bronze and the silver and looking for more. I think we are very good at adjusting and making those quick improvements and continuously trying to change them to make it work, so that we can become successful against a team that we just lost to. We are both dedicated to winning, so we’ll do whatever it takes.”
So far, Heather Bansley has won four silver and four bronze medals on the World Tour, but gold has been persistently evading her.
“It’s definitely time! Brandie and I are playing really well right now. I am especially hungry and I know that Brandie is hungry for that gold, so we are going to keep pushing,” Heather pointed out. “I think it’s completely different with a new teammate as well and I am definitely looking to win that gold medal and I think that Brandie is the person that I am going to win that gold medal with – different partnership, different style of play and different energy on the court. These are all really positive things and that’s only going to help us win that gold medal.”
... and maybe the fact that Sunday’s Warsaw final falls right on Brandie’s 26th birthday could also help deliver that bit of extra energy they need to beat Germany’s Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude.
Intuitively, both Heather and Brandie initially put the emphasis on what they have in common as the reason for their success as a pair, but as the conversation unfolds, they start leaning towards their differences as the most likely source of a beneficial partnership.
“I am old and quiet and very shy. Brandie is much younger and keeps me young,” Heather said, while her teammate shakes her head with a smile. She is definitely more outgoing than me and that has sort of helped me come out of my shell a little bit. I am fairly rigid sometimes, but we are a good mix of professionalism and also enjoying the time that we have together.”
“We just complement each other,” Brandie added.
But there is no difference between the two when it comes down to pointing what their long-term goal is. Well, Heather said it quietly, while Brandie spelled it out loud: “We definitely have our eyes on the prize and that’s definitely gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!”