After rallying in their last chance Paralympic qualifier against Ukraine, Team Canada’s sitting volleyball team is going to the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
But what’s Team Canada’s connection to MacEwan University?
The Griffins women’s volleyball associate coach, Nicole Ban, is also Team Canada’s head coach and a former athlete on the Griffins women’s volleyball team (2005 to 2007). Joining Nicole at the Paralympics are several other members of the MacEwan community, including Griffins assistant coach Chelsea Hobbs, former Griffin Kate Rozendaal, students Sarah Melenka and Heidi Peters, and Erin Brennan (the men's volleyball team’s mental performance consultant).
“We did it on our own merit,” says Nicole. “We qualified by beating some really tough competitors.”
Ranked fifth in the world, Team Canada knocked off No. 4 Ukraine in both the round robin and the final at the Last Chance Paralympic qualifier. Overall, they went 6-0 in the tournament, securing the only spot remaining for the Paralympics.
"When that final point happened, everyone was relieved and thrilled and really excited to accomplish that on home soil in Halifax,” says Nicole. “There were a lot of fans and people there and it was the perfect moment to qualify for Tokyo.”
Team Canada will join previously qualified teams from China, Brazil, Russia, Italy, Rwanda, the United States and Japan at the games, which run from August 25 to September 6.
"It's truly surreal," says Heidi, a Bachelor of Arts student. "I'm still kind of in shock — I say it's a shock because I'm living on the adrenaline of it, but it's something we've been trying very hard for over the last six months after not qualifying when we went to Lima in August. That was very difficult. Everyone shifted their mindset. We trained so hard and we did it.”
Nicole and Heidi (and others on the team) will be heading to their second Paralympics after finishing seventh in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“I think the first time was all excitement — we just took in the experience, and it was a lot of firsts,” says Nicole. “This time we know what to expect. We're there to upset some teams and win some games.”
This will be the first Paralympic experience for Sarah, who joined the team in 2017.
“I think it's going to be pretty amazing," says the massage therapy student. “To be able to play the sport that we love even though we have disabilities that affect our day-to-day lives, we're still able to go out there and compete at an international level. It's kind of a great feeling."
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