A Christmas beach volleyball program featuring Olympic-level coaching took place in Whitehorse during the holidays from Dec. 28-30.
Guest coaches included beach volleyball Tokyo Olympian Brandie Wilkerson, high-performance coach Angie Shen, and Canada Beach National Team alumni Victoria (Vee) Altomare.
The event was sponsored by Volleyball Yukon, Northern Lytes, Lotteries Yukon, and Northland Beverages.
Shannon Poelman, Team Yukon’s Canada Summer Games women’s beach volleyball coach, explains how the guest coaches at the event got involved.
“Beach volleyball has really started to grow and develop interest in the Yukon. For the last couple years, Volleyball Yukon’s been promoting beach volleyball because with our communities ... to field a team for indoor, you need at least
six players on the court, whereas with beach volleyball, you only need two. We’ve been really trying to develop beach, and ... Angie Shen, who is one of our visiting high-performance coaches, she was sort of my beach volleyball mentor coach. I took my advanced development with her and I knew she had coached Brandi (Wilkerson) and some of the current Olympians, so I reached out to her because I thought she would be amazing. She’s very energetic and positive and I thought she’d be great. And I knew that she had this connection with Brandi Wilkerson, who’s the beach volleyball player for Team Canada at Tokyo. So I reached out to her – she’s always wanted to come to the Yukon – so I said ‘do you think Brandi would want to come with you?’ and she said ‘yeah, let’s find out.’ So it just sort of got the ball rolling there,” related Poelman.
“And then the other athlete, Vee Altomare, she was Canada Beach National Team alumni, she was (on) the first female team. Her partner was Melissa Humana-Parades ... she played in the Olympics as well, with Sarah Pavan, and won worlds, but Vee was her junior partner and they were the first women’s medal winner in the – I think it was U21 category. They brought home the silver for Canada. So that was one of the women’s first beach medals for Canada, and they were partners ... I didn’t know her at all, and she – Angie coached her, and she said ‘I want to come up too.’ She just came up ... on her own dime,” added Poelman.
The event took place at Porter Creek Secondary school.
It featured Intro to Beach Volleyball for ages 13-16, High-Performance for men and women ages 17-22, and a “No Sand, No Sun” mini-tournament Dec. 30.
“We had three days of the athlete program and we had one day where it was like a coach’s clinic ... just for our upcoming Canada Games,” said Poelman. “There’s the male coach and myself and then there’s some other coaches
that wanted to be involved and learn about beach, like, for the club level, so that we could start promoting it more.”
Poelman explained the purpose of the program.
“First of all, to really build excitement and interest around beach ... to give the athletes and us exposure to high-performance coaching and high-performance athletes.”
32 athletes and three coaches, as well as Poelman, attended the program.
“We had a few community kids that were able to come in, because I offered a travel subsidy for those. I really tried to plug it with the communities.”
There are plans in the works to have more events like this in the future.
“That’s what I would hope and I know – these ladies are all in Toronto, so I know with Air North – I know they’re starting their Toronto flights direct from Whitehorse, I’m hoping to be able to take advantage of them more, even taking the athletes out that way. Ontario has one of the bigger beach programs – just more exposure that way. So I definitely look for other opportunity. And we have some good connections as well in British Columbia, and looking there as well for competition, additional coaching,” said Poelman.
The next big thing coming up is of course the Canada Games.
“What’s coming up next is the Canada Summer Games 2022, if everything goes well. Right now, we’re into club season, which is specifically indoor ... looking to April, May to start up the beach program, and training for Canada
Summer Games ... in August 2022 if ... everything’s cooled down with
Of course, COVID restrictions have had an affect on their activities.
“We had to limit our numbers ... for that program specifically,” related Poelman. “As we go on to club season, there are certain protocols that they have in regards to the numbers, following measures. Events like the nationals indoors have been cancelled the last two years, so not too sure what will happen. That usually occurs at the end of April, beginning of May, so there’s no call on that yet. It’s still happening. And the same with all the beach events that Volleyball Canada has planned for the summer. So far, so good, but, as we know, it can change daily, so, fingers crossed.”
Surprisingly enough, the outdoor volleyball season starts earlier than one would expect in the Yukon.
“We try to get out on the outdoor courts as soon as the snow clears ... you can certainly start training indoors anytime. There’s always skills and drills that you can run, but it’s nice to get out on the sand courts outside, as that has
tremendous effects on the game, when you’re playing, so you want to get as much exposure there,” Poelman explained.
She says they have used the beach courts at Rotary Park in the past, but are now looking at a new location.
“We’re looking at funding to get beach courts up and running this spring, so that’s all still pending funding. We’re hopeful that project will go through.”
As for the location of the new courts, “I actually shouldn’t say right now, because we haven’t solidified our funding,” said Poelman. “It wouldn’t be at Rotary Park, because those reports were identified as recreational purpose for all public, and we aren’t able to book those courts for usage. We’ve been in talks with our partners and we do have a location identified. It just isn’t solidified yet, with the funding.”
Poelman said they are hoping Volleyball Yukon will incorporate beach volleyball into their program.
“Volleyball Yukon has tried to run programs, and I think that is the hope for us, is that with the interest building, that they will start to build a beach season into their club programs, so that’s again something that we really hope and want to do. With Canada Summer Games, that’s the focus this summer, but we hope that the club affiliates will take on those programs. And I know that the high schools, they do run a very short beach program, last thing before they finish school, sometime end of May or June.”
As for the Christmas beach volleyball program itself, Poelman says it was a memorable experience, with the guest coaches being pleasantly surprised by the athletes.
“The coaches commented on the skill level of our athletes. I don’t know what they expected, but they said it was a lot higher than what they expected, so that was super-positive, and just to see the kids out on the court again, and excited about something, it was so amazing, and these three ladies really brought a lot of energy and a lot of positivity. It was great.”