Jamie Broder is on the sandy road to the Pan American Games.
The 28-year-old Saanich product is coming off a breakout year as she and teammate Kristina Valjas, 25, established themselves as the nation’s top women’s beach volleyball team. They’re ranked 17th in the world.
“This was an extremely stressful year for us,” Broder said. “It was the first full-time season together for Kristina and after playing half of last year together.”
The duo won gold at the NORCECA Beach Volleyball Circuit in Trinidad in early December, the last event of their season.
It capped a year with four top-10 finishes from September on, with three ninth place finishes at FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) events.
Only a year ago, Broder and Valjas were the young ones learning the ropes. This year they hit all the FIVB events and are currently ranked as the top women’s team in Canada.
It’s a crucial spot, as a top-16 world ranking will automatically qualify them for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, when the time comes.
First things first as the duo look to reboot over the holidays before returning to Toronto.
“Nothing too crazy for the holidays,” Broder said from her parent’s home in Saanich. “We’ll have a big Christmas dinner. It’s just to nice be home and see family. I have two brothers here. I always love coming back to Victoria.”
The fact Broder is on Canada’s top beach team comes against the grain.
The Claremont secondary grad started the sport as a 15-year-old. Contemporaries from her school include respected teacher and volleyball coach Shon Ryan as well as national indoor player Fred Winters.
Broder played for Malaspina for three years and switched to UBC where she helped the Thunderbirds to a CIS national championships.
Even before conquering the collegiate indoor game in Canada, Broder had won gold at the U18 national championships and followed it up with U20 and U24 titles, including a spot on the 2004 and 2005 teams for Canada at the U21 world championship.
But she wanted to play beach. Upon completing her commerce degree at UBC in 2010 Broder moved to Toronto, but her national beach dream fell short. She was cut from the team mainly due to her height. At 5-foot-7, she didn’t have enough of it to be successful at international beach volleyball, she was told.
She had experience playing beyond her height at UBC, where head coach Doug Reimer had her pegged as defence, where shorter players often find success. Instead, Broder’s smart play and battle level earned her a spot starting as a leftside hitter for the Thunderbirds.
“I struggled with the decision to move to Toronto a lot,” Broder said. “I don’t take well to people telling me I can’t do something – especially because of my height.”
Later that year she was named back to the team, mostly due to her work ethic and commitment. Broder and Valjas were paired late in 2011 and now they’re climbing the world rankings, which are dominated by Brazil.
Broder tries to work part time but it’s hard when she’s away so often. She and Valjas find there’s a cash shortfall being a national team beach volleyball athlete in Canada. To boost their chances, they’ve registered on the crowd funding site Pursu.it (pursu.it/campaign/valjas-broder).
“Being carded on the national team helps with the living costs. Travel is covered by us. Prize money at events also helps, the end of the season was big, two top-10 finishes, but there could be more money.”