Bukovec

Bukovec will have an opportunity to take her career to new heights with Brandie

Some people spend their entire lives waiting for a dream opportunity. And Sophie Bukovec knew she couldn’t risk being less than 100% ready if one came her way. Her patience and dedication were rewarded and she will now play the inaugural season of the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour alongside Tokyo Olympian Brandie Wilkerson.

The partnership would have seemed unlikely a few months ago. Both the 29-year-old Brandie and 26-year-old Bukovec were blockers. They were also at different places in their careers.

While Brandie had some excellent years with Heather Bansley between 2017 and 2021, becoming the top-ranked team in the world in 2018 and qualifying for last year’s Tokyo Olympics, Bukovec only found success at FIVB World Tour one and two-star events after becoming the first Canadian player to take gold at the 2014 FIVB Beach Volleyball U21 World Championship with Tiadora Miric.

And yet, Bukovec never lost faith. She knew her phone would eventually ring.

“I am really looking forward to competing alongside Brandie. She is a world-class player not only in terms of her volleyball experience and knowledge but in her incomparable presence both on and off the court,” she told Volleyball World. “I’ve been patiently waiting and preparing behind the scenes the past few years for this exact opportunity, and I’m looking forward to seizing it. I purposely started training as a defender for the moment Brandie called… and here we are.”

After a successful five-year partnership with Bansley, Brandie felt the need to explore options that would allow her to further develop her game on a competitive international scene. The prospect of having a 1.83m-tall defender with tons of room for improvement playing behind her own 1.79m-tall, highly-athletic block was too good for her to pass on.

“Sophie and I chose to move forward together because we felt there was untapped potential to play the women’s game in a highly athletic, creative and elevated style,” the Best Blocker of the 2018 World Tour explained. “Sophie has been a successful competitor for years and is extremely skilled, she is someone I look forward to learning from. She’s resourceful, highly dedicated and a quick learner, which made her an obvious choice. I also believe that our values line up in a way that we are both willing to expand our skills and take risks to get to the top.”

The two players started training together in January in Toronto and then moved on to a training camp in Rio de Janeiro with their Brazilian coach, Ricardo de Freitas, who guided Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas to silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Working on moving one player from blocking to defence at the same time they try to build chemistry as a team is certainly challenging. The Canadians, however, are confident they’ll be ready for their debut, which should be at the first Beach Pro Tour event on the calendar, the Challenge tournament in Tlaxcala, Mexico, from March 16-20.

“We are extremely satisfied with progress so far. The team is clicking together quickly and we’ve been extremely focused and are starting to see our game come together,” Bukovec added. “We believe we’ll be very athletic and dynamic in our offensive options and a team that’s capable of taking up a lot of space defensively.”

The experience Brandie acquired over the last five years playing at the highest level of the sport with veteran Bansley will also be extremely helpful to the pair as they make their first steps together.

In 44 international tournaments with the 34-year-old defender, Brandie claimed a place on the podium 11 times and, most importantly, learned what it takes to be one of the top teams in the world.

“I have nothing but gratitude and respect for Heather and the accomplishments we’ve maintained throughout our partnership, so I’m looking forward to using everything I’ve learned in this new chapter,” she reflected. “Heather was pivotal in my career, she opened up the possibility for me to be where I am today by giving me a chance back in 2017. She has been a leader on and off the sand in what it takes to be a professional athlete, a dedicated hard worker, and a strong woman in her community. This last quad has been an unforgettable experience with some of my greatest career highlights to date.”