Volleyball News

Brandie Wilkerson Shines in San Jose

Brandie Wilkerson

There were some very interesting developments over the weekend in p1440’s inaugural event in San Jose. Perhaps the most mind blowing was the performance by Canadian Brandie Wilkerson.

Arguably the most physically gifted player on the tour, Wilkerson is just 26 years old and already has the beach volleyball cognoscenti in rapture over her unorthodox but highly effective serve and her imposing vertical leap. She has been a full-time beach player for the most part only three years and yet this past season was named the world’s best blocker. Pretty impressive for someone standing “only” 5-10.

And her improvement has been stunning. In 2016 she garnered two ninths in FIVB World Tour events. Last year two fifths and an unlooked for second in the AVP Manhattan Beach Open as the 15th seed playing with Nicole Branagh. Then this past season a real breakthrough: a win in Warsaw, Poland bracketed by a second and two thirds in four star or better tournaments.

Wilkerson’s full-time partner is Heather Bansley, the “cast off” of Sarah Pavan after the Olympic Summer Games in Rio in 2016. Now, in a bit of irony, Wilkerson-Bansley are the fourth ranked team in the world while Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes are sixth, still nothing to scoff at. The Bansley-Wilkerson partnership was hatched in time for the FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto two years ago and as luck would have it, their first high level match together was against Pavan-Humana Paredes which they shockingly won, 23-21, 21-13.

It looked like it was going to be a quick exit for Bansley and Humana Paredes in San Jose. Seeded first, they lost their second match against a mixed-nationality team Jolien Sinnema of the Netherlands and Taiana Lima of Brazil (in my opinion the most underrated player in the world) 17-15 in the third. Then they had to win four matches in a row including another three set thriller against Lima and Sinnema before they won the final amidst a barrage of hitting errors by Maria Antonelli.

The other somewhat “shocking” result on the women’s side was the completely out-of-nowhere fifth place finish by Jessica Gaffney (USA) and Agnieszka Progowska (Poland) another mixed nationality team. Seeded 20th, they were trounced by Geena Urango and Caitlin Ledoux before winning four matches in a row including a three-setter over Nicole Branagh and Lauren Fendrick. Remember last summer Fendrick won a silver medal at the World Championships!! Pregowska, 32, had a previous best in a significant tourney of 13th in the AVP San Francisco this past summer. Gaffney, meanwhile clocked in at a 17th for her previous high water mark in a “major” tourney.

It was very refreshing to see prize money down to 17th place in San Jose. For finishing fifth Gaffney and Pregowska took home $4500 a piece, not a king’s ransom but maybe just enough to feel that your dream is worth pursuing.

Next up a review of the San Jose men’s tournament.