At just 19 years of age, Surrey’s Kiera Van Ryk is already among the top volleyball players in Canada.
She proved it over the summer by making the country’s 14-woman roster that flew to Japan for the 2018 FIVB World Volleyball Championships.
And with the UBC Thunderbirds, she’s also set to show that her record-setting performance last season was no fluke.
As a second-year player with the young team in Vancouver, Van Ryk is viewed as a key performer this season, after being the first Thunderbird in program history to be named both Canada West and U SPORTS Rookie of the Year. She was also a second-team All Canadian in 2017-18, as noted in a season-preview feature posted to the Canada West website (canadawest.org).
In her rookie campaign at UBC, as a six-foot-two Left Side, Van Ryk led all of U SPORTS in both kills (352) and points (411.5).
No question, it’s been an amazing season of post-secondary volleyball for the Surrey Christian School grad, who grew up in the Fleetwood area.
Van Ryk’s summer was busier than expected, too, after she ended up earning her first experience with the senior national team.
“We had tryouts and going in, and I had a back injury so I wasn’t sure how that would be, and whether I’d be selected to the team,” Van Ryk recalled in a phone interview this week. “I was kind of selected in a different way than others, and the head coach wanted me more as a practice player at the beginning, more for future years,” she added. “But then he wanted me to travel and then I ended up starting, so the summer changed a lot from the beginning of it, and I wasn’t really expecting anything like that this summer. It fully exceeded my expectations.”
In Japan earlier this month, Van Ryk was among two Surrey-based players on the Marcello Abbondanza-coached Team Canada, along with Brianna Beamish, an Earl Marriott Secondary grad who plays at UBCO in Kelowna.
In opening-round play, Team Canada beat Cuba but lost to Turkey, Bulgaria, China and Italy.
Van Ryk was jacked to be there in Sapporo, but of course hoped for better results in the five games played.
”It was really good,” she said, “but obviously I would have loved for us to win a couple more games over there and continue to the second round, but yeah, it was a crazy experience and I got to learn a lot from the girls around me and just from playing at such a high level. And playing teams like China and Italy, who came second and third overall in the tournament, we got to play against some of the best teams in the world, so that was crazy to me.”
With the national team on hiatus until tryouts next May, Van Ryk is again focused on making the Thunderbirds fly on the volleyball court.
“I’ve been back for just over two weeks,” she said Tuesday, “and the team was really good about accepting me back, you know, because I wasn’t really here for pre-season. It felt like I was already part of the team when I first stepped back in the gym.”
Last Friday night (Oct. 19), the new-look UBC squad lost its season-opener to the top-ranked Alberta Pandas at War Memorial Gym. Van Ryk shared a team high eight kills and added four digs.
“It was unfortunate we lost our home-opener over the weekend,” she said, “but we are a very, very young team this season, so there are some kinks to work out and small things, but I have good expectations for our team this year, which has some good athletes and I think there is really good potential.”
Van Ryk said “it’s weird” that in just her second year at UBC, she’s already among the older players, and is considered one of the team leaders.
“That’s kind of crazy to me,” she said, “but I also like it because growing up playing volleyball, I was always the youngest on the team but often had that spot of leadership, so I do have a little bit of experience in that area.”
Van Ryk grew up with two older sisters involved in volleyball, and watched and learned from Jocelyn and Amy.
“Being the youngest one in the family, I always went to their games,” Kiera said. “I’d beg my dad to play between games, between sets and in timeouts, all the time. I guess my parents saw that I had this great love for the game, so they put me in volleyball camps when I was in Grade 3, and ever since then I kept going, and kept growing – kept growing in my abilities and also kept growing in my love of the game.”
The Van Ryk-led Thunderbirds plays in Kamloops this weekend (Oct. 26-27) followed by matches in Brandon, Manitoba on the weekend of Nov. 2-3. The UBC team returns home Nov. 9 to play Manitoba Bisons. The full schedule is posted at gothunderbirds.ca.