CHICAGO — That Canadian Olympians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson have become familiar faces on the AVP, America’s professional beach-volleyball series, has been a win-win situation for both.
The AVP gets one of the world’s best women’s teams gracing its tournaments, raising the overall level of competition, and giving folks in Canada a compelling reason to follow a cash-strapped tour that desperately needs more fans.
Accordingly, there should be a good turnout for the annual AVP Gold Series Chicago Open on Oak Street Beach when the tournament begins Friday on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Melissa and Brandie, as they are known on the FIVB’s awkwardly named Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour, benefit from having more events available to them with easier travel, but ones that still afford world-class opposition. They can pick and choose a schedule that can help maximize their potential earnings while reducing their expenses. The AVP’s Gold Series and the FIVB’s top-tier Elite 16 pay the same prize money per event: $150,000.
This makes for a symbiotic relationship between the AVP and the crack Canadian team, particularly when the lightning-quick Humana-Paredes and the uber-athletic Wilkerson arguably are among the most popular women with American beach-volleyball fans.
Brandie, 31, has both USA and Canadian citizenship. Her dad is former Tulsa basketball standout Herb Johnson, who was picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the third round of the 1985 NBA Draft but played his professional ball overseas. Wilkerson debuted on the AVP in 2017 and has played with American partners such as Nicole Branagh, Brooke Sweat, Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes and Zana Muno before picking up Humana-Paredes for the 2022 Chicago event. They finished second, dropping a tense three-setter in the finals to fast-rising Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss.
Melissa, 30, has a green card and played her first AVP tournament in 2018. She enjoyed great success defending behind the dominating block of 6-foot-6 Sarah Pavan, a fellow Canadian. They put their names on the pier by winning the storied Manhattan Beach Open in 2019, beating future Olympic gold medalists April Ross and Alix Klineman in a memorable three-set slugfest (16-14 in the third). That same year, Melissa and Sarah finished first in the FIVB World Championships in…