Two-time Olympian Heather Bansley announces retirement as a player
March 07, 2022: After competing in back-to-back Olympics and more than a decade worth of donning the maple leaf, beach volleyball athlete Heather Bansley is stepping out of the sand – but not too far out.
Bansley has announced that the 2020 Tokyo Games, where she and teammate Brandie Wilkerson placed fifth overall, will be her final appearance for Team Canada. She has joined the Canadian coaching staff as a Next Gen assistant coach.
“I’m going to miss training every day,” said Bansley. “I am an athlete who loved training. I will really miss having the opportunity to train around the world on some amazing beaches.”
While playing university indoor volleyball with the Toronto Varsity Blues, the Waterdown, Ontario native discovered beach volleyball as a way to train in the summers. First representing Team Canada at the 2007 Junior World Championship, she joined the national team, partnered with Elizabeth Maloney. Bansley and Maloney finished fifth at the 2011 Pan Am Games, helping Canada to a London 2012 Olympic berth but missed out on the spot at the national trials.
“I’d like to thank Liz for partnering up with me and introducing me to the international beach volleyball scene and showing me what it meant and what it took to be a professional,” she said. “Liz was an incredibly kind and patient teammate, and taught me so much when I first started to play internationally.”
After Maloney’s retirement in 2012, Bansley partnered with Sarah Pavan and quickly became Canada’s top-ranked team. They broke out in 2015, winning Canada’s first-ever FIVB Major Series medal (silver) and Canada’s best-ever World Championship result (fifth) at the time, while Bansley was named the 2015 FVIB World Tour Best Defensive Player – an honour she earned again in 2016 and 2018.
Bansley and Pavan followed up their 2015 season with an appearance at the 2016 Olympics, where they earned Canada’s best-ever finish in women’s beach volleyball, falling in the quarter finals to eventual gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany.
“I’d like to thank Sarah for choosing to pursue beach volleyball with me,” reflected Bansley. “And helping me to achieve my goal of competing at the highest level and becoming an Olympian.”
After those Games, Bansley partnered with Brandie Wilkerson. In 2017, the duo was top-10 in every FIVB World Tour event they competed in and reached the quarterfinals at the World Championship.
They had a big year together in 2018, earning six podium finishes on the World Tour, including three gold medals and earning the No. 1 ranking in the world. After earning two more podiums in 2019, Bansley was back at the Olympic Games for the 2020 Tokyo Games, earning another fifth-place finish in what would be her final tournament.
“Brandie and I had had a successful couple of tournaments back-to-back in 2018, winning bronze in Itapema, Brazil and then silver in Ostrava, Czech Republic,” said Bansley. “Then we went on to win gold in Warsaw, Poland. It was the first gold medal of my career, and it was on July 1, Canada Day and Brandie’s birthday. It was a really special and fun day.
“I thank Brandie for partnering up with me in 2017 and her commitment to pursuing beach volleyball at the highest level together. Brandie was a great teammate and helped me develop into the player I am today. Brandie is an incredibly talented athlete, and I wish all the best for her in the future.”
From her indoor experience to her beach success, Bansley reflects on the numerous coaches that helped her throughout her career: “My University of Toronto varsity coach and career-long mentor, Kristine Drakich, has always been a coach and friend who supported and believed in me, She really encouraged me to pursue beach volleyball and supported me pursuing it professionally.
“And (beach coach) Scott Davenport for all the technical coaching and helping develop me into one of the best defensive players in the world,” she explains.
“Another is Lennard Krapp. I thank him for his support during his time as National Team head coach, but also to return as a personal coach for me and Brandie and help us reach the number one ranking in the world in 2018. Lennard helped bring a new level of professionalism to our team and I am very grateful for his time preparing me and Brandie for the seasons in 2018, 2019, and 2020,” said Bansley.
She also recognizes coach Ricardo de Freitas for his passion and commitment in helping build their team during a global pandemic and for his guidance into Tokyo: “Rico showed us a new way to train and helped us be at our best heading into the Olympic Games.”
As one of the top athletes in the game throughout her career, the 34-year-old has learned a great deal from her time in beach volleyball that she will now use in her coaching career, helping to shape the future athletes in the sport.
“A big, key takeaway for me is how all-encompassing playing at the highest level is. It’s a 24-hour job, and a full-time commitment,” Bansley reflected. “I love playing, and it was always an easy choice to make beach volleyball a priority in my life.”
Bansley has now joined the coaching staff at the High Performance Centre at Downsview Park in Toronto working alongside Adriana Bento and Josh Nichol in the Next Gen program. When she’s not at the training centre or coaching on the beach, Bansley is looking forward to the new change of pace in her life.
“I am looking forward to spending time at home, settled in one place, with my family and friends, my new niece Finley and my dog, Terry. I’m looking forward to having more time to pursue other hobbies and travel for leisure.”
- Video tribute: https://youtu.be/r2NMSq1Z-Mk
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