Roster 100: Melissa & Sarah
Still chasing the Big Goal

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, January 20, 2021 - Sarah Pavan wanted to make sure that the correct Sarah was called. Melissa Humana-Paredes said that this was crazy, and also wondered if it was serious, not a cruel practical joke, if her and Pavan were, indeed, actually named to the small clutch of beach volleyball teams as the most impactful and influential of the previous decade.

These reactions may cue an eye roll from some. Surely, this must be false modesty. Tactical public relations. It is not.

There is nothing about either Pavan or Humana-Paredes that is false or disingenuous. They were both genuinely, totally surprised, honoured, thrilled, to be named to this list. Their work is far from done, the big, capital G Goal – a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics – has not yet been realised.

What’s the point in taking stock in all you’ve done if the final destination hasn’t been reached?

Pavan kicks herself for this sometimes. Sometimes she wishes she could take it in, to celebrate, for a day, a moment, a dinner – something. But she can’t. Just not wired that way. She struggles revelling in their World Championship victory – a first for a Canadian team – the Manhattan Beach Open win – another first for an all-Canadian duo – the No. 1 world ranking, the six FIVB wins and the guaranteed Olympic berth in 2021. And Pavan is happy, to be sure. They both know it’s cool, all those wins. It’s just hard to celebrate achieving something that was never really the Big Goal to begin with.

“I don’t think I will until my career is over or until our partnership is over,” Pavan said of taking stock of the impressive resume her and Humana-Paredes have put together since 2017. “We’ve done some great things together, but our biggest goal is still in front of us. Even with everything that’s happened with COVID and not being able to play this season and all of that, this year was supposed to be the year where it all came together.

“We still have a chance to do that. I don’t want to be satisfied just yet. I want to win a gold medal for our country with Melissa. Once we’ve gone through that process together and gone through the Olympic Games, maybe I’ll take a second to appreciate it a little more.”

Here is what Pavan can appreciate, and loves discussing: her partner. Not just Humana-Paredes, but the relationship, the partnership they’ve developed. Pavan saw something in Humana-Paredes, then a 25-year-old who had cut her teeth on the World Tour with Taylor Pischke, that convinced her to give up her first love, indoor volleyball, and pursue beach full-time.

“It was the hardest decision I ever had to make and also the easiest,” Pavan said. “It was the absolute hardest thing I’ve had to do because to this day I still love indoor volleyball. I love the sport, my career was on a great trajectory, I loved living overseas and the culture and just the physical domination aspect of the game and the different tactics. It was hard to walk away from that joy and that certainty.

“At the same time, it was an easy decision because I believed wholeheartedly in my partnership with Melissa and our partnership as a team. I knew I would never forgive myself if the 2020 Olympics passed and I didn’t give my full soul to our team.

“We have something so incredibly special that it was like ‘This is the right person and the right time to do this.’ I will not be a part of something this special maybe ever again, so the sacrifice was worth it.”

How worth it that decision was became immediately evident, in their fourth tournament together, the 2017 Porec Major. In the quarterfinals, they found themselves down eight points in the third set to Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich. An eight-point deficit in the third set is when most fans begin packing their bags. Grab the kids, let’s go. Game over.

But it wasn’t. They came back, slowly, surely, winning the third set 20-18, a victory that ultimately paved their way to their first win as partners, in one of the biggest tournaments of the year.

“That set the tone for who we are: No matter what the score is, no matter what the situation may be, we will always believe we can win. We’re going to do it together,” Pavan said. “That was a really special moment, and that kind of laid the foundation for all the wins to follow that.”


It’s a word Pavan used frequently to describe this team. It’s a description that is as fitting off the court as it is on. They’re total opposites, those two. Humana-Paredes is excitable, one of the happier human beings you’ll come across, and she wears it all over her 1.75m frame. Pavan is more reserved, calculating, her emotions more internal than external. Over the previous three years, neither has attempted to sway one to become more like the other. They’ve found their unprecedented strength as a team resides primarily in their differences.

“You could argue we’re complete opposites, who we are as people and also who we are as players,” Pavan said. “I think that the black and white dichotomy that we have going on allows us to meet each other in the middle so much more than if we were playing with someone who’s exactly like us.

“I think we understand that both of us operate in the best interest of each other and in the best interest of our team. Just that trust and the understanding that even if we might not understand what the other person is doing, we know where they’re coming from. That has allowed our relationship to grow and develop in a really impactful way. We work within a system but we allow each other to be who we are. I don’t put reins on Melissa and she doesn’t try to change how I operate on the court either. We have developed this system where we allow each other to be free.”

That freedom, that connection, has paved the way for what is currently the most successful beach volleyball partnership in Canadian beach volleyball history.

But shh, don’t tell them that. They’re not finished yet.

“We have so many goals we want to hit that we haven’t reached yet,” Humana-Paredes said. “It’s hard to look back when we just keep looking forward.”