UBC's Irvan Brar is the pulse of UBC's No. 6-ranked T-Birds volleyball team. (Richard Lam, UBC athletics)
Feature University Men's Volleyball

Irvan Brar: One small step, one giant leap for ‘Birds star hitter

VANCOUVER — Place Irvan Brar against the standard measure of feet and inches as it pertains to the power-hitting forces in the world of Canada West men’s volleyball, and it’s easy to jump to conclusions.

Yet all you have to do is look at the level of his leap on the court at War Memorial Gymnasium to understand that the UBC Thunderbirds’ fourth-year standout is a person who knows how to rise and shine.

On Friday and Saturday, as the No. 6 nationally ranked ‘Birds (14-6) play host to No. 4 Alberta (17-3) in UBC’s final regular-season homestand of the campaign, the visiting Golden Bears will march out imposing 6-foot-7 fifth-year senior hitter Ryan Nickifor.

In fact all around the conference, one of the very best in North America, it’s the big men who logically dominate the kill charts. Six of Canada West’s top 10 spiking specialists check in at 6-foot-6 or taller.


He’s somewhere between 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2, yet heading into action Friday, the fourth-year graduate of Surrey’s Fraser Heights Secondary, sits sixth overall in kills with 270.

UBC outside hitter Irvan Brar is among the conference’s most deadly despite standing just 6-foot-2. (Richard Lam, UBC athletics)

“Growing up, coaches would all tell me that I was too short to play the position,” begins Brar, “so I took it as a challenge being a 6-2 guy. Knowing all of that has put a bit of a chip on my shoulder.”

Yet that chip has done nothing to weigh down the sociology major’s extreme vertical leap.

In a YouTube video from a match against Saskatchewan which went viral earlier this season, Brar took one small step and one giant leap off a perfect set from teammate Byron Keturakis, his spike travelling with such velocity that it hit a Huskies player square in the head and knocked him to the court.

“I wasn’t aiming for his face, but Byron made a nice set and I was unblocked,” Brar said. “The guy was OK, he waved over. I know a lot of people shared it. For me, it was just nice for our team to get noticed and get some exposure.”

Adds UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald: “At the end of the day, Irvan is attacking the ball at a similar point, jumping wise, to those taller players. It’s his vertical leap which makes up for it.

Yet if you’re looking for something bordering on a tale, about how Brar just one day happened upon his ability to make quantum leaps, well, there isn’t one.

“It wasn’t so much discovered as it has been something I have just worked towards,” Brar, 21, says. “We had a good strength coach on the beach club team (Side Out Volleyball) that I played on, and somehow, technique just transferred in my ability to start jumping higher.”

Yet while he has gained athletic acclaim for his airborne feats, Brar is incredibly grounded, seeing the bigger picture of what he represents culturally in a community in which volleyball pales to basketball in terms of its popularity.

Earlier this season, the Shaheed Mewa Singh Sports and Cultural Association presented him with its inaugural scholarship which recognizes leadership in Surrey’s South-Asian community.

“We want to show that volleyball is a fun sport and to get more kids involved in playing,” says Brar. “I think everyone feels a responsibility in terms of how they carry themselves, and I am student-athlete but also a role model. I do understand that eyes are on me and I want to set a great example.

“I had a great role model in a guy named Sanjiv Jasra (who operates a retail outlet in Coquitlam’s called Volleyball Stuff). He is the one who got me into really playing the sport, and now I want to do the same for others.”

It’s just another example of Brar’s unique persona.

Born to parents of Indian descent, he spent his first five years growing up in the former Hong Kong, then immigrated with his family to B.C. where he discovered volleyball while watching his older brother Iman play the game at Erma Stephenson Elementary in Surrey.

“Cantonese was the first language I learned and even my grandparents speak a bit of it,” says Brar who can also converse in Punjabi.

First-year UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald loves Brar’s overall versatility the most. (Richard Lam, UBC athletics)

Fittingly, that versatility has extended to the volleyball court where the trilingual Brar is also adept at speaking the languages of so many of his sport’s other positions.

“What gets overlooked is his defence and his ball-control,” says MacDonald of Brar, who has 122 digs on the campaign. “He made the Canadian junior national team as a libero-type because of that position’s skills and the ball-control that he provides. That is something that sets him apart nationally and to me, the all-round skills are the most impressive part of his game.”

Brar still has one more season of eligibility remaining, and he wants to keep putting challenges in front of him.
Over the summer, he plans to try out for the Canadian senior national ‘B’ team, and beyond UBC, he wants to take a stab at a professional career overseas.

“He is kind of the pulse of us,” MacDonald says of the captain. “As he goes, we go. And when things aren’t, he is the consummate leader. He is fine to put us on his back.”

Not the tallest, the biggest or the strongest, Irvan Brar is nonetheless a giant on the Point Grey campus.

He’s the one, who each day, makes a leap of faith that turns everyone into believers.

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