BURNABY — Jayme Bratsberg doesn’t have it in her to be the loudmouth libero.
Yet in a manner of speaking, you could say that as Simon Fraser volleyball’s defensive specialist prepares to open the final Great Northwest Athletic Conference campaign of her career at home tonight (Thursday) against the visiting St. Martin’s Saints (7 p.m., West Gym), she’s not above giving herself a well-deserved shout-out.
“I’ve come a long way,” admits the 5-foot-9 senior from North Vancouver’s Argyle Secondary. “When I first came here, I was just the quietest person.”
So quiet, in fact, that when she was re-united atop Burnaby Mountain with Clan assistant Rob Gowe, who had previously coached Bratsberg during her high school years at regional training centre on the north shore, she was reminded of her monk-like silence.
“Rob told me that for the entire first year he knew me, I didn’t say a single word,” laughs Bratsberg, 21, whose on-court demeanor has been the polar opposite of loquacious fellow senior teammate and star middle blocker Tessa May. “Not a single word.”
Yet as of late, behind the power that comes from experience and its resulting confidence, that silence has indeed been broken.
And with it, the real Jayme Bratsberg, the one who closed last season by being named a GNAC All-Conference honourable mention after finishing third in digs-per-set at 5.30, and who in four matches produced 30-plus digs, has begun to emerge.
“If you had seen her in her first year, getting her to talk on the court was her biggest challenge,” says Clan head coach Gina Schmidt, whose team will close out a two-match home stand Saturday (7 p.m.) by playing host to the Seattle Pacific Falcons. “We joked ‘Now I see her mouth moving but I can’t hear noise coming out of it,’ so it was a gradual process. But now when she is so loudly calling balls on the court, you can see she has come a long way. You hope all your athletes will all evolve as players and people, and Jayme is definitely an example of that.”
STRIKING A BALANCE
Jayme Bratsberg is a rare, old-school student-athlete.
As high-achieving in the classroom as she is on the court, she came to Simon Fraser in the fall of 2014 on an academic scholarship.
Since the age of five, she knew she wanted to be a veterinarian.
And this season, as she puts the finishing touches on a triple major in chemistry, bio-chemistry and molecular biology in advance of graduate school, there is a comfort in knowing that the academic half of her life has helped keep the athletic half in better balance.
“Ever since that first year, my scholarships have been about 50/50 from academics and athletics,” explains Bratsberg, who took a redshirt season in her 2014-15 freshman campaign.
To her, the symbolism of that split is meaningful.
“It’s helped give me a lot of perspective,” she says. “Sometimes playing volleyball, especially on a varsity team, can seem overwhelming, like ‘Is this all I have in my life?’ At times, everything can seem to revolve around it, which it sometimes does. But when it gets overwhelming, it’s nice to know that I have other things in my life that go well for me.”
And if you keep an open mind to learning at every step of the journey, like Bratsberg has, you can’t help but grow, even when those opportunities are more intrinsic in nature.
Case in point?
Volleyball Canada national team libero Alison McKay, one year Bratsberg senior and a starter throughout her Clan career (2013-16), not only played with Bratsberg in their youth club days, but through her first three seasons at SFU.
And while McKay’s talent was undeniable over a career in which became Simon Fraser’s most highly-decorated volleyball player ever on her way to the Canadian senior national team, Bratsberg feels she got something even more unique from their many years spent together.
“Honestly, just her energy,” Bratsberg says when asked what most impressed her about McKay. “Obviously she is an amazing player and she makes amazing plays all the time. That’s just how she is, and all of that is very impactful.
“But to me, it was more about just watching her,” Bratsberg continued, pointing to some of the intangible, off-court moments which have helped bring her out of her own shell. “It was seeing how happy she was as a person and the energy that brought to our team. It was amazing how she gave us such a positive environment.”
And now, as she, along with May and senior outside hitter Lauren Fridman don Clan colours for their final university seasons, Bratsberg isn’t shy to state, in very tangible terms, some of her important personal goals.
“I would love to have all of those qualities,” she says of McKay’s, “but I am a much more reserved person than Al. But that’s still my goal. I am trying to be less reserved, trying to be more positive and happy. I am trying to be more jubilant.”
LEADING IN HER OWN WAY
It was last week of August, and in its bid to face the best competition possible in advance of a GNAC campaign in which they have been selected as the conference’s preseason No. 3 team, the Clan found itself in Hilo, Hawaii for the First Hawaiian Bank Volleyball Challenge.
Hurricane Lane, however, hit the islands soon after their arrival, and over a hectic and anxious week, SFU was able to play just two of its scheduled four matches.
As heavy rain and high winds both flooded roadways and pelted the region, the Clan were largely relegated to their beach house rental property.
“Honestly,” begins Bratsberg, “it was an experience. It sucks we missed out on two games, but I am still glad we had it…being locked away with your teammates for six days.”
The entire team, including its redshirts, made the trip, and Bratsberg adds that, in her own way, she was happy to get a chance to show leadership within a group that included many more youthful players.
“Tessa even talked about it with the team,” added Bratsberg of May, who in a pre-game speech expressed a belief that their forced confinement had only strengthened their togetherness. “She said ‘Guys, we’re the most bonded team. We’re all on the same wave-length.’”
There’s a case to be made that the Clan were already in that space before their trip to Hawaii, especially if you consider how they finished last season.
SFU was one of the hottest teams in Div. 2 over the stretch drive of the GNAC regular season, closing out the campaign on a 7-2 surge that was capped with a four-set win over West Region No. 2 Northwest Nazarene to end the schedule.
From that team, the Clan return 11 players, including six starters.
“Last year was a rebuilding year,” admits Schmidt. “Even though we had a lot of returners, it was a new group on the floor. So there is a lot less of a learning curve this year.
So what was the best takeaway from a 2017 season, which unlike 2016’s history-making campaign, did not include a post-season appearance?
“I think they saw how we ended last season, playing very well,” Schmidt continues. “Our goal is to start at that point. Not start from square one. You can feel that there is more familiarity and more comfort with each other.”
Bratsberg, of course, if a big part of that.
“For sure, I feel more confident,” she begins. “I feel like I am able to give off those vibes, like I am able to do more than I felt I ever could.
“In the past, I was too reserved. I didn’t want to be the one taking people’s balls,” Bratsberg admits of her prior hesitancy to push the limits of the defensive ground she was supposed to be covering. “I didn’t feel like I should be the one taking most of the court. I was sort of just doing my job, and getting by. But this is it. This is the last time I’m doing this, so let’s make it count.”
She still might not be the loudest, but the message has been received, loud and clear.
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