Since steel gains strength from exposure to high temperatures, Ben Chow and Nick Del Bianco are hoping the same rule applies to beach volleyball players.
The two Fleetwood Park grads, who form one of Canada's best junior teams, put their skills to the test against men's teams in NORCECA (North America, Central America and Caribbean) zone competition in Mexico and Cuba in recent weeks.
Adding to the challenge for the Canadian kids was the furnace like conditions on the beaches of Veradero, Cuba.
Despite the step up in competition, Del Bianco and Chow held their own, finishing fifth in Mexico and capturing the bronze medal in Cuba.
"It was definitely a new experience for us and a valuable one in terms of learning," Del Bianco said. "The biggest difference with the men's teams is they have more experience than the juniors. That's where we saw the biggest difference.
"It was kind of fun actually because we didn't have much pressure on us so we were able to play as underdogs. We did a good job of that because we were able to reach some of the goals we set for ourselves. We wanted to finish fifth or higher in Mexico and top three in Cuba and we accomplished both of those."
Del Bianco, who plays for Trinity Western University in the winter months, and Chow (UBC), warmed up for their Caribbean adventure with an impressive third place showing in the men's open category at a tournament at Kitsilano Beach in May.
In late May the duo and coach Kyra Iannone travelled to Toluca, Mexico where they advanced to the quarter-finals of their firstever NORCECA event before settling for fifth overall.
"It was really different playing at that level," Chow said. "The calibre of competition at World Juniors was not as good as that but there are still some very good teams. With the men's tournament, everyone can compete and there's more consistency. A lot of the Caribbean teams weren't too strong but the high-end teams from Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba were all really good. They were at the top end and after that there's a middle group. The Cuban teams all stormed through the tournaments."
The trio was on the road again in the first week of June where they braved wicked heat at the NORCECA tourney in Cuba.
While the weather in Mexico had been mild, the sun was blazing in Veradero. With Chow suffering from the effects of dehydration on the first day, the Canadian kids dropped their first game of the double knockout event to a team from Costa Rica. Del Bianco and Chow soldiered on, but because of the early loss, they had to play extra games to reach the later stages of the tournament. In all, the duo played eight games in two days and managed to gain a measure of revenge by eliminating the Costa Ricans before earning a bronze medal after bowing out to a Cuban team in the semifinals.
"We've played in heat like that before two years ago in Turkey, but it's still hard to get used to," Chow said. "We were in Mexico a couple of weeks before that but it was not nearly as hot there. In Cuba, even at 9 a.m. the heat was pretty crazy. You would expect it would be cooler in the morning but it was so hot we could only warm up in periods because we needed to take breaks and find some shade."
Iannone, their coach with South Surrey's Sideout Volleyball Club, added, "It was really crazy. The heat was unreal and on the second day, at one point we only had 45 minutes between games so it was a real rush to get scouting reports in and a game plan put together while making sure Ben and Nick were hydrated and got some food in them.
"It was just incredible but finishing fifth and third in their first international exposure was really good; we're really happy with that."
Chow and Del Bianco now turn their attention to the Canadian qualifier for the World Junior Championships next month in Toronto. The goal is to win the tournament and earn the right to the title of Canada One for the World Junior Championships in Halifax later this summer.
In the mean time, the duo will be busy with fundraising activities in the next couple of weeks. They will be staging a bottle drive on June 24th and a pub night fundraiser on June 30th at the Black Forest Pub in South Surrey.
For more information on these events or to contribute to their fundraising efforts, contact Iannone at kyra. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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