Ontario has a rich collection of Volleyball players who had great international careers. From small-town gyms across the province to the sand courts dotting the shores of Lake Ontario, a ton of great players have beaten the best in the world after getting started here.
Here, we are going to get a better look at five athletes who started right here in Ontario that every Canadian volleyball fan should know and every young player should try to emulate.
Heather Bansley, fresh off a fifth-place finish at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, joined the Varsity Blues women's volleyball coaching staff in September 2021. Bansley was a two-time all-Canadian during her time at the University of Toronto (2005-10), where she graduated with degrees in English and linguistics.
She topped the OUA and U SPORTS leader boards in points, kills, and serving aces per set and led the Blues to the provincial title and a berth to the U SPORTS National Championship in 2009-10. Bansley represented Canada at the 2007 Under-21 World Beach Championships and the 2008 FISU World Beach Championships while a student-athlete at the University of Toronto.
She spent 13 years on the Canadian National Beach Team, competing in over 100 international events, and winning five first-place finishes in FIVB and NORCECA events.
Bansley won the world's best defender honours three times on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour (2015, 2016, and 2018), and in 2018, she and her partner Brandie Wilkerson were ranked the No. 1 team in the world.
She currently serves as the head coach of Volleyball Canada's Next Gen Beach program.
Sarah Pavan is a Canadian indoor and beach volleyball player from Kitchener, Ontario. Pavan played club volleyball for the Waterloo Tigers and started playing for the Canadian National Team program at just 16 years old, making her Senior National Team debut at the 2003 World Grand Prix in Italy.
She led Canada to the semifinals of the NORCECA Zone Olympic Qualifying Tournament in December of 2003 and was named MVP of the 2002 NORCECA Championships, where she had a 24-kill performance against the U.S. Youth National Team.
She chose to play college volleyball at the University of Nebraska, choosing the Huskers over Stanford, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Penn State. At the University of Nebraska, Pavan won an NCAA Volleyball National Championship and was named an All-American four times.
After college, Pavan transitioned to beach volleyball and began competing on the international circuit. She has since become one of the most successful beach volleyball players in Canadian history. She has won numerous awards and accolades, including a gold medal at the 2019 Beach Volleyball World Championships, a silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games, and multiple FIVB World Tour medals.
Pavan has also competed in multiple Olympic Games, representing Canada in both the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In Tokyo, she and her partner, Melissa Humana-Paredes, won the gold medal, becoming the first Canadian team to win a gold medal in beach volleyball.
In addition to her achievements on the court, Pavan has also been recognized for her work off the court. She is an ambassador for Right to Play, a global organization that uses the power of play to help children facing adversity. She has also been outspoken about mental health, sharing her own experiences with anxiety and depression to help break down the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Up first is Mark Heese from St. Catherine's Ontario, who got his start in Beach Volleyball at the Balmy Beach Club in Toronto.
A former Canadian beach volleyball player, Mark Heese grew up watching his father, an Olympic canoeist, train hard for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games. This inspired Mark to become an Olympic athlete himself.
While in high school, Heese played multiple sports including basketball, his favorite sport. He attended McMaster University with the intention of playing basketball but made the indoor volleyball team instead.
After graduation, he continued playing indoor volleyball until 1995 when he shifted his focus to beach volleyball.
He partnered with a number of different players throughout his career, including another Ontario native John Child, who he teamed up with to win a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Heese and Child were the first Canadians to win an Olympic medal in beach volleyball. In addition to his Olympic medal, Heese won a number of other awards and accolades throughout his career. He was a two-time Pan American Games gold medalist, a four-time Canadian national champion, and was named the Canadian beach volleyball player of the year in 1996 and 1997.
OVA Team Ontario is a development program for the province's top volleyball talent, helping train national team and club athletes. OVA hosts multiple talent identification programs on GMTM that beach and indoor volleyball athletes from Ontario can participate in.