By Howard Tsumura, the Province
SURREY — Kiera Van Ryk admits experiencing a moment this past summer which brought clarity to her demanding daily routine of practice on the volleyball court.
“I got my first opportunity to wear a Canadian jersey,” the 6-foot-2 Grade 11 left side hitter with the Surrey Christian Falcons said after earning selection to her country’s junior national team. “When I was younger, there would always be times where I would say to myself ‘Do I really need to be practicing more?’ but those extra reps and all that training was worth it, because this summer, I could just feel it paying off. It was such a great experience to see the level of play that Canada and the whole world has.”
Yet as eye-opening as competing with the junior national team at an international tournament in Iowa was for Van Ryk, you could say she is keeping university coaches just as wide-eyed as she opens her Grade 11 season with the B.C. Double A No. 4-ranked Falcons.
One Canadian university coach has called her “a program changer” and Canadian junior national team head coach Scott Koskie says that Van Ryk brings a combination of skill and grace that is rare in such a young player.
“Those intangibles, all of her personal qualities, they are huge,” admits Koskie of Van Ryk, one of just two 16-year-olds to make the team. “But she is really so highly skilled. Ball-control wise, how she is able to read the game, she is so well-rounded. She has world-class skill for her age, and that is impressive. The degree of her level of body control and her physical literacy is remarkable. The extent to which she can control her body is just something we don’t normally see in players of that age.”
Add up all of those superlatives and you very quickly get the picture that we’re talking about perhaps the best girls high school player in Canada’s Class of 2017.
And again, Van Ryk is another example of athlete development through the multi-sport model.
Although volleyball has become her specialty, the best traits of which Koskie speaks were undoubtedly enhanced through a natural process as she spent her formative athletic years also involved in soccer, softball, gymnastics and figure skating.
Now, she is determined to help try and lead Surrey Christian to a provincial title.
Last season, as a 10th grader, Van Ryk played her first full season at the senior varsity level, and with her dad Hendrik coaching the team, the Falcons advanced all the way to the provincial semifinals before losing in five sets to crosstown rival and eventual champion Pacific Academy.
So all-encompassing is Van Ryk’s skill set that in its loss to Pacific Academy, with her team trailing 2-0 in the best-of-five semifinal, she was able to move from her normal attacking position and offer help at the setting position, a move which allowed the team to rally to a 2-2 tie, before losing 15-13 in the fifth set for a berth in the B.C. final.
“Our team has a lot of talent,” Van Ryk said before practice earlier this week. “We are really getting to know one another, and by the end of the season, I think we can make provincials and be the ones at the top.”
As humble as they come, Van Ryk has also grown into a leader, and on Wednesday, was named team captain.
“I think the biggest impact she can have on the team this year is the fact that she will be a calming presence,” said her dad. “She is able to just go out there and do her stuff and not get flustered.”
Last season, Campbell River-Timberline’s Sarah Chase, a Province Head of the Class honouree, set a rare bar for the rest of B.C. high school girls volleyball world to follow by making Canada’s senior women’s ‘B’ national team before she’d even had her high school commencement ceremony. Chase is in her NCAA Div. 1 freshman season at St. Mary’s College in California.
Koskie, who has coached both players, sees some similarities.
“Both recognize that they are very good players at the level they are at right now but they recognize that they need to do a lot of work to continue to climb the ladder,” he said. “They are confident in what they do well, but they are both not afraid to get outside of their comfort zone to make themselves successful down the road.”
Van Ryk is presently in the process of narrowing her large list of university suitors with a choice thought to be coming in the near future.
But her Grade 11 season has just begun and there’s still the matter of an entire Grade 12 season ahead as well. And that’s the best part of all for B.C. volleyball fans.