By Martin Cleary
In the summer of 2022, life was grand for Ottawa Fusion beach volleyball players Quinn Brydges and Mallea McMullin.
The multi-sport, young girls had shifted their athletic focus to a new partnership, a new adventure.
Their first year of smashing and digging balls in the slippery sand went well and ended with a girls’ 13U silver medal in the top premier division at the Ontario beach volleyball championships.
There was no reason to believe they couldn’t continue that success this year as they graduated to the 14U division.
And they have… but it wasn’t a smooth ride.
In the early part of the 2023 provincial beach volleyball season, Brydges and McMullin won gold and silver medals in a pair of 15U tournaments and gold in a 14U competition. They were optimistic about completing the qualifying requirements to participate in the Ontario 14U premier division championship.
They also got to participate in an Ontario Volleyball Association Team Ontario Regional Program camp in Guelph. But during the camp, Brydges landed awkwardly during a play and injured her left knee.
The injury forced Brydges, 14, to the sidelines for the month of July, while McMullin, 13, continued her beach volleyball training with other Fusion players. But Brydges’s untimely injury led to a raft of challenges, if they wanted to return to the Ontario championships.
They needed to play in two 14U provincial tournaments and earn enough points to qualify for the Ontario championships. But they had only played one tournament in their age group and had missed the provincial 14U tournament in Ottawa because they were at the regional camp.
They had played two 15U tournaments and had enough points for that division, but they had to play in their proper age group at provincials.
“Technically, we shouldn’t have qualified for provincials because we only had one tournament,” Brydges explained.
Appeals were made to the OVA and Brydges and McMullin, who were the premier division 13U silver medallists in 2022, were allowed to compete in provincials. But they were demoted to the championship division, which was one level below premier, and they were given a low ranking.
More appeals were made, but the decision remained the same. It was learned too late that Brydges and McMullin could have asked for a wild card into the premier division.
When they started provincials, Brydges wasn’t fully recovered from her injury and her knee needed to be supported with athletic tape to relieve some pressure.
But when everything calmed, Brydges and McMullin went to work in the championship division and won the silver medal on the first weekend of August at Toronto’s Ashbridges Bay. After winning their first six games, they dropped the best-of-three final 2-1 to Emma Yeung and Sophia Phung of Venom Volleyball Club of Brampton.
After winning their three preliminary matches on the first day, Brydges and McMullin entered the playoff round and added another three victories to reach the gold-medal game.
“I guess it was OK,” McMullin said about winning the silver medal. “It was a bit of a disappointment, but they played very well.
“It was super windy and hard to control the serves. It was unpredictable weather.”
“The team we played was very good and super nice. I was glad we took a set,” Brydges added. “I was very tired and lost some of my quickness. I hadn’t done a lot for a few weeks. I was really tired and I didn’t play as well as I could have.
“It was really difficult (coming back from the injury). When I came back, I felt I had lost strength and was discouraged.”
Brydges and McMullin were disappointed they couldn’t return to the premier division, but switched gears and concentrated on playing their best in the championship class.
“We’re both fast and athletic, so our defence was good,” McMullin explained. “We also communicate well. Neither one of us pounds the ball and we do our shots well.”
“We are both very good tournament players, very calm when we play and don’t get distracted,” Brydges added. “We work well together because we’re both level-headed, don’t get angry at each other or blame each other.”
This fall, Brydges will move up an age group for indoor volleyball and play for the Mavericks 16U girls’ team. She also will compete for the De La Salle high school girls’ senior team as a Grade 9 student-athlete.
McMullin, who is entering Grade 9 at Louis-Riel high school, is turning her focus to making the transition to being a forward from defence with the Ottawa Senators U15 girls’ hockey team. She also is a midfielder for the Gloucester Hornets’ competitive U14 soccer program and a point guard in the Gloucester Wolverines’ U14 basketball program.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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