Four months ago, their first Beach Pro Tour event as volleyball partners ended in a quarterfinal loss. On Sunday, in only their seventh tournament together, Brandie Wilkerson and Melissa Humana-Paredes were champions for the first time.
The third-seeded Canadians won 12 sets in a row and posted their fifth consecutive sweep to capture the women’s title over No. 11 Esmée Böbner and Zoé Vergé-Dépré of Switzerland at the Challenger event in Jurmala, Latvia.
Wilkerson completed a 21-17, 21-17 victory with a monster block, one of her five in the match en route to being named best blocker of the competition.
“I’m so happy,” she said in a story posted to the Volleyball World website. “I had the best time playing with Melissa. She is the ultimate superstar.
“This team has been working hard, so it’s so good to see it [lead to] a gold medal.”
On June 4, the Toronto duo collected a bronze at the Ostrava Elite16 tourney in the Czech Republic.
Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes led 26-23 in attack points in Sunday’s gold-medal game, outblocked their opponent 5-1 and made fewer errors.
“It was a really solid week of consistent play by us. We stuck together, overcoming some adversity and really enjoyed playing each point,” Humana-Paredes told Volleyball Canada.
“It’s been a long time on the road and we’re excited to go home to celebrate with our loved ones and get ready for the next one.”
For Humana-Paredes, Sunday’s title victory was her second consecutive in Jurmala after defeating Brazil’s Bárbara Seixas and Carol Solberg a year ago with then-partner Sarah Pavan to end a two-plus year drought.
Pavan and Humana-Paredes ended their five-year beach volleyball partnership three months later, with the latter subsequently paired with Wilkerson last October by Volleyball Canada as the governing body looked ahead to the Paris Olympics next summer.
Before partnering, Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes advanced to the final of the AVP Pro Tour’s Chicago Open last Sept. 4 in their professional beach volleyball debut. The 30-year-olds lost two sets to one to rising American stars Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth before Wilkerson split with her partner Sophie Bukovec, who was nursing an injury but watching the match in Chicago.
Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes were teammates in their 2010-11 rookie year at York University in Toronto. Before graduating, they were playing varsity indoor volleyball and training beach at the same time. Eventually, they pursued beach full-time and were named alternates for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Earlier Sunday, Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes beat home country favorites and top-seeded Anastasija Samoilova and Tina Graudina in the semifinal 2-0 (21-17, 21-16).
Samoilova and Graudina, the 2020 Olympic gold medalists and reigning European champions, earned bronze over Brazil’s Tainá Bigi and Victoria Lopes in a tiebreaker (21-11, 20-22, 15-13).
The lone set loss for the Canadians occurred in their tourney opener on Friday versus 22nd-seeded Americans Kelley Kolinske and Hailey Harward.
They went on to defeat Italians Margherita Bianchin and Claudia Scampoli in pool play, Lithuanian tandem Monika Paulikiene and Aine Raupelyte in the round of 16, and Chinese qualifiers Dong Jie and Wang Fan in the quarterfinals.
With Canada tied 9-9 in the second set against Böbner and Vergé-Dépré, Wilkerson took ownership at the net to push her team forward. She had 18 points in the set, as did Böbner, who added five aces.
“You can never feel you have control or you’ll lose it immediately,” Wilkerson said, “so every point we played like it was the first of the game.”