By NEIL DAVIDSON
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Friday, April 13, 2018
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA -- Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes made history on Thursday, dispatching an Australian pair to become the first women to win beach volleyball gold at the Commonwealth Games.
Ranked No. 1 in the world by the FIVB, the Canadians had to battle wind and rain as well as resilient opponents in Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar to triumph 21-19, 22-20.
The Canadians fought off a set point at 20-19 in the final set and put the Australians away with a gut-busting final point that saw 17 touches of the ball and some miraculous saves on both sides of the net. When it was done, the 5-foot-9 Humana-Paredes jumped into the arms of the 6-foot-5 Pavan to celebrate putting their names in the games record book.
"It feels amazing," said Pavan, a 31-year-old from Kitchener, Ont. "To be the first gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games for beach volleyball is such an honour. And we've made history.
"Hopefully this will continue to be an event in the Commonwealth Games but there's nothing like the first."
Canadians Sam Schachter and Sam Pedlow had to settle for silver, losing the men's final 21-19, 18-21, 18-16 to Australians Chris McHugh and Damien Schumann in an entertaining nail-biter that lasted 61 minutes.
Both Canadian teams had to deal with a polite, but loud, partisan crowd at the Coolangatta Beachfront venue in Gold Coast's southernmost suburb.
The beach volleyball competition has been a huge hit here, with every session a sellout. The venue was rocking on Thursday, with 4,000 spectators filling the temporary stands.
As surf pounded the beach outside, an energetic emcee urged fans to high-five one another after big plays on the sand.
Fans stamped their feet, posed for a "muscle-cam" on the big screen, did the wave on cue and sang along to Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline.
In reaching the final, the Canadian women did not drop a set and gave up just 77 points in five matches.
But the Australians made them work for it with the 5foot-8 Artacho del Solar putting on a remarkable defensive display.
The Canadian women won the first three points of the match only to see the Australians claw their way back. The Australians led 19-18 before Canada rallied to win the first set 21-18 with a Pavan block capping a three-point run.
It was more of the same in the second set with the Canadians staving off the Australians.
"Australia's a great team and we knew that they weren't going to let up, especially in front of this crowd," Pavan said. "I think that we showed a lot of grit and heart. Technically speaking, it definitely was not our best game, but we did not give up at all. And I think that's really important, especially in these circumstances with a crowd like it was."
Both women expressed hope that the sport will continue to be part of the games program. It has yet to be confirmed for 2022 in Birmingham, England.
"What else can you ask for?" said Pavan, who now makes her home in the volleyball hotbed of Hermosa Beach, Calif. "The fans love it. For the athletes, we love playing in multisport games and environments like this. So fingers crossed that they'll include it in the next Commonwealth [Games]." "It still blows my mind that beach volleyball isn't more popular than what it is," added Humana-Paredes, a 25-year-old from Toronto.
Both men's finalists showed off some stellar defence and, via Pedlow and McHugh, some real firepower at the net. It was close throughout, with neither team having more than a three-point lead.
The Canadians had their chances, leading 12-9 in the third set and having a match point at 14-13. But two poor serves by Pedlow and a ball into the net cost the Canadians as the Australians rallied for the win.
Schumann jumped into McHugh's arms while the Canadians fell to their knees after the decisive point.
"We let it get away from us at the end and we'll feel that one for a while," Pedlow lamented.
Schachter, from Richmond Hill, Ont., and Pedlow, from Barrie, Ont., are ranked 14th in the world, compared with No. 20 for McHugh and Schumann.
The Canadians looked gutted as they walked out to get their medals.
"For sure we came here for gold, there's no denying that," Schachter said. "We were capable of achieving that goal, but today just wasn't our day and those Australian guys played great. It was heartbreaker, but it was a good lesson and I think we can use that going forward toward the  Olympics."
The Australians were elated.
"It's a really pinchingyourself sort of moment to have a home crowd and win gold the first time volleyball has ever been at the Commonwealth Games," said the 6-foot-6 McHugh, whose serve topped out at 94 kilometres an hour.
"If you didn't have goosebumps in the stadium during that match, you probably weren't alive."
Schachter, 27, teamed up with the 30-year-old Pedlow after his previous partner, Josh Binstock, retired after the Rio Olympics where they finished 19th.
The two Sams clicked quickly in 2017. They never finished out of the top 10 and were runnersup at an event in Long Beach, Calif., last July before placing ninth at the world championships in Vienna in August.
Pavan and Humana-Paredes joined forces after the Rio Olympics in which Pavan and Heather Bansley finished fifth to match Canada's best-ever Olympic result in women's beach volleyball.
A former indoor volleyball star who played for Canada and professionally in Brazil, China, Italy and South Korea, Pavan now focuses exclusively on the beach version of the game.
Artacho del Solar and Clancy, the first Indigenous Australian to compete in Olympic beach volleyball, teamed up in May, 2017, after going to Rio with different partners.
They won four events of different magnitudes at the end of last season.
Vanuatu's Miller Pata and Linline Matauatu defeated Mariota Angelopoulou and Manolina Konstantinou of Cyprus 21-14, 2110 for the women's bronze. Pata, a mother of two, exited the medal ceremony with seven-monthold son, Tommy, in her arms.
New Zealand brothers Ben and Sam O'Dea downed England's Chris Gregory and Jake Sheaf 21-13, 21-15 for the men's bronze.
Canada's Sarah Pavan, left, returns a shot as Melissa Humana-Paredes looks on during the beach volleyball final against Australia at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday. The gold-medal win 'feels amazing,' Pavan says. RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS