SURREY — Brianna Beamish has been handed a lot of different roles throughout her volleyball career but none say more about her singular impact than the script which calls for her to maintain her true identity.
“I have always had a team-first mentality and I firmly believe that a player should do whatever they can to help their team win,” she explains. “For me, that has meant I’ve been thrown into a lot of different positions.”
There is an old adage about how the best preparation for tomorrow’s success is to do today’s work as diligently as possible, and in the case of the former UBC Okanagan Heat standout, it’s a fitting way to road-map her unique journey from unheralded South Surrey high schooler to budding overseas international at one of her sport’s most tradition-laden professional franchises.
Back in December of 2010, upon the completion of her senior season at Earl Marriott Secondary, Canada West university coaches voted her the 10th-best prospect in the annual poll of B.C.’s best Grade 12 players.
Yet after helping lead the Heat’s transition from the CCAA to U Sports national prominence over her five seasons in Kelowna, Beamish has not only established a pro career in Europe, she has just returned from the Pan American Cup in Peru, where she debuted with the Canadian senior women’s national team.
Yet perhaps even more dramatic than her first international cap was the role she was cast in order to earn it.
It seemed proof positive that her identity, that of the total team player, was helping her gain some much-deserved individual accolades.
“…SHE’S STILL GETTING BETTER”
This isn’t an exact science.
As much as university coaches are expected to know who its next national team players are years before their time, their ability to project future greatness is so often fraught with uncertainty.
With that in mind, UBC Okanagan’s longtime head coach Steve Manuel just made sure he reminded himself that the high school-aged Brianna Beamish was a player who still needed to find her true place in the game.
“I think that Brianna, coming through high school, was very much a product of our system,” says Manuel, who with the 5-foot-11 Beamish helping leading the way, would being the Heat to national prominence, including a CIS national Final Four berth in 2016.
“She was a taller kid and stuck in the middle like taller kids normally are,” Manuel continued of the middle blocking role Beamish played with her high school Mariners through her Grade 11 season.
Fortunately, Marriott head coach Mark Cassell had the vision to move Beamish to the perimeter for her senior year of high school, and it was as a left-side hitter where she not only thrived, but eventually had a number of shortcomings in her game revealed.
Again, her true identity took over.
“I knew I was never going to be tall enough to be a top-level middle, so I made sure that I was still focusing on my passing and my defensive game,” Beamish says. “It paid off when I moved to left side, but while I was decent passer through university, defence was still the weakest part of my game.”
If you’re noticing a theme of distinct upward momentum in this story, you’re right.
When Beamish graduated from UBC O, then made the national team for the first time at this time last year, her reaction was the polar opposite of resting on any laurels.
“I realized pretty quickly that to have any success at the international level, that my passing and defence would need to improve. So I worked extremely hard on them, to the point where I now believe they are the strongest parts of my game.”
There is something so stoic about embracing utilitarianism for the sake of the collective.
Yet as we look at Beamish moving forward, embracing the team mentally has not only rewarded her with a most varied skill set, it has re-affirmed the merits of hard work.
In the blink of an eye, Manuel encapsulates a span from high school senior to second-year national team member thusly: “In Grade 12, there were a few more players who might have been more polished. They might have looked a little better than Bree. But her ceiling was so much higher. Hey, it’s seven years later and she’s still getting better.”
A multi-sport background never hurts, and in the case of Beamish, volleyball actually entered her life as a distant No. 2.
“My No. 1 sport growing up was softball,” says the South Surrey native. “I grew up watching the Canada Cup and was determined that one day I would be playing in that very same tournament for Team Canada.
“But things started to change in my Grade 9 year, and I started to find a love for volleyball. In Grade 10 I officially made the decision to give up softball. My dad was not very pleased at the time with the sport change, but he will finally admit now that I made the right choice.”
After making her pro debut in Austria last season with Innsbruck’s VC Tirol, Beamish recently made a huge step up in the global hierarchy, signing in France with RC Cannes, the New York Yankees of French women’s volleyball.
“You can say that I am overjoyed,” said Beamish who will be with the national team until the end of September before jetting off to the French Riviera to join her new club. “I am not 100 per cent sure what position they will want me to play when I get there, but like usual, I will play where the team needs me.”
ON TOP OF THE WORLD
In and of itself, it’s not too unusual for the most talented players, at various levels of the game, to play multiple positions.
In the case of Beamish, however, that notion was pushed to its limits.
“It’s still crazy to me that my first game representing Canada was at a position that I had never played in a regular match before,” she begins. “Up until the Pan American Cup, I had never played a match as a libero.”
And Beamish didn’t just play the defence-only position for the first time ever in what was the biggest moment of her career, she also did it as the team’s starter.
“To go from middle blocker, where you’re not playing in the back court and not playing much defence, to seven years later starting on the national team as a libero,” begins Manuel, “it speaks to her focus, her tenacity, her ability to train and improve in increments over long periods of time. Now, to not only move to Div. 1 in France, but to sign at Cannes? It’s really quite something. It’s nothing short of unbelievable.”
Yet the facts are that self-belief and perseverance can out-strip almost any set of odds.
“If you had asked me where I was ranked that year in high school , I don’t think I could have told you,” Beamish says with a laugh. “But thinking back to that time, I remember that I used it to motivate me.
“At the time it came out, I had only been a left-side less than a year so I was not polished. Because of that, I had many university coaches tell me that I wasn’t good enough for their program and that I wasn’t going to be a top university player. I was determined to prove them wrong and lucky for me, Steve Manuel saw some potential in me. He was willing to take a chance on me.”
Beamish calls picking UBC Okanagan one of the best decisions she has ever made, and it helped lead her right to her goal of attempting to make her country’s top national team.
“I was just honoured to be at my first Team Canada selection camp,” she says of earning an invite in the spring of 2016, immediately following her graduation. “I was just trying to soak in the experience. I can’t describe the feeling I had when I found out I made it. I still get chills thinking about it. I remember barely being able to have a conversation with my parents about it, we were all so emotional.”
Now, back for her second year, she is getting her chance to contribute and potentially do it in her hometown.
The Canadian team will not only play FIVB Grand Prix events in July at the Richmond Olympic Oval, but they will attempt to gain a spot at the 2018 World Championships at the Norceca group qualification tournament set for the end of September at the Langley Events Centre.
From there, she hops a flight to France and the city known for staging the world’s premier film festival.
Brianna Beamish has herself been asked to play many roles, all of which have been enhanced by letting her true identity come to the fore. These days, it seems, life is good.
“I don’t know if there is a feeling that compares to putting on that Team Canada jersey and singing our national anthem,” she explains. “I can now say I am living my dream, and it’s the best feeling in the world.”
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