Had Gracie May known more of the young athletes trying out for the youth national team in June of 2017, she and Arden Copping, who she did know from having played against her here in Victoria, might not have spent as much time hanging out together.
They may not have become fast friends, and they may not have conceived of the idea of playing beach volleyball together.
That idea led, first, to entering the Beach Fest at Spanish Banks in Vancouver. Even though they had never played or practiced together, they won that tournament.
They tried out for the U16 Team B.C. Beach, and came in second in the qualifying tournament, earning them a spot as representatives of B.C. In subsequent competition as B.C. representatives they won a silver medal in U16 provincials and did extremely well in another tournament in Seattle.
By then it was time to return to school volleyball, where, as part of Belmont Secondary School, May was part of the team that managed to win its third provincial title — an incredible achievement for the young athletes.
While at the AAAA school provincial championships, a representative of Volleyball B.C., who had followed May’s performance in the summer, extended an opportunity to attend the U19 FIVB World Championship Selection Tournament (FIVB is the world governing body for volleyball). The tournament will be held in Toronto later this year and the winners will go on to represent Canada at the world championships in China.
But, in order to be competitive in this high level competition, May and Copping would have to attend weekend winter training sessions in Vancouver with the caveat that they pay their own expenses while training.
Not to be deterred, the pair went to work with the same intensity with which they had approached their volleyball training and competition.
They prepared a presentation with the aim of securing sponsors for their training expenses and, in short order, May was contacted by a representative of three local companies (who wanted to remain anonymous). She underwent an interview with that representative and, when she was done, she was handed a cheque that would cover her expenses. In Vancouver, Copping was going through a similar process and secured the funding she needed to round out the training expenses.
“It was just amazing. I was very nervous during the interview and I thought it would probably take a while for them to decide, but as soon as we were done, she handed me the cheque. It was a dream come true,” May said.
“After Christmas I’ll be going to Vancouver every weekend to work with B.C.’s new beach development coach, Jamie Broder, who represented Canada in beach volleyball at the 2016 summer Olympics. It’s an incredible opportunity and I’m so grateful for this chance.”
May started playing volleyball at Gordon Head Middle school and, although she dabbled in lacrosse, swimming, and even horseback riding, volleyball has always been her first love.
Although she has one more year of high school volleyball ahead of her, and hopes to participate in the sport at a post-secondary level following graduation, her love of beach volleyball has opened a new dimension of the game to May.
“It’s a very personal game. You get to touch the ball every other contact and you really get to decide how the game is going to be played so it’s far more of an individual sport,” explained May.
Mike Toakley, May’s coach at Belmont Secondary, has no doubt about May’s future.
“She’s a phenomenal player with a lot of heart and I know she’ll be someone to be watching in the very near future. I’m just happy to have had a small part in helping her become the player she is today.”