Siblings hit the sand in search of gold

South Surrey brother, sister team up with Kelowna counterparts for summer games.

Beach volleyball siblings (left to right) Devon and Darby Dunn and Quinci and Liam Birker are teaming up to represent B.C. this week.

Call it a family affair.

Athletes who train and play together can often wind up feeling like they’re related – but Team BC is going that one better with its current mens and womens beach volleyball teams.

Heading into the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games in Fort McMurray, Alta. competing two-member teams come from just two sets of brother-sister siblings.

Through a selection process that started on the May long weekend, South Surrey’s Darby Dunn, 17 and brother Devon, 20, have been matched up with Kelowna’s Quinci Birker (also 17) and brother Liam.

“I’ve been coaching B.C. teams for the last 10 years, and this is the first time this has ever happened,” said men’s team coach Kyra Iannone (Chris Densmore coaches the women).

And she said that good things are expected of both the Liam-Devon and Quinci-Darby partnerships, as the players are known quantities who have participated at gold and silver level at national and international events before.

“Devon played for Team Canada and the U-19 world championships in Portugal, while Quinci played for Team Canada in the U-17 world championships in Acapulco, Mexico.” Iannone said.

“Both of their teams should be in the gold-medal match this year,” she added. “For the last six years now, both the girls and the guys on Team BC have been in the gold medal matches.”

Fortunately – considering it’s a fast-moving sport in which flexibility and communication between team members is crucial – it’s a great advantage that the brothers and sisters get along well.

Their camaraderie was evident as they staged a mock sisters-against-brothers battle for the camera when the Peace Arch News caught up with them after a training session at Semiahmoo Secondary’s beach volleyball courts on Friday.

They weren’t strangers to one-another when the selection was made, they said, even though this is the first time the respective siblings have been on the same team.

“We’ve played against each other,” noted Darby.

“And we’ve both been on trips together,” added Quinci. “Liam and I have already been staying at their house for the past week and nothing’s blown up!”

Communicating with each other well is particularly vital, Iannone said.

“There’s no coaches there whatsoever during a game. They not only have to be able to compete, but figure out the game for themselves.”

“There’s lots of communication between every single play – and we’re talking through the whole play,” said Liam, who’s going into his third year at the University of Calgary.

He enjoys the “intense” nature of the sport, he said, while sister Quinci, who is going into Grade 12 this fall, said she appreciates the chance to be half of a two-person team.

“I like not having to deal with a lot of people – there’s more responsibility and accountability,” she said. “You can’t really suck, and still win.”

Both Devon and Liam started volleyball when they were in Grade 10 – at Elgin Park Secondary and Kelowna Senior Secondary respectively – and when their sisters were in Grade 6 at the same schools.

They have a varied background of competing in various sports, including football and gymnastics, but all have soccer and basketball experience in common.

After five blocks of training, the athletes are feeling good about the upcoming competition – even though, as Iannone pointed out, they will experience the added glare of media attention, television coverage and play-by-play commentary.

“We’re feeling confident going into it,” said Devon, who starts his third year at Douglas College college this fall.

“I like that we’re going to be playing people that we’ve never seen before,” said Darby, who will be entering her first year at Douglas in September.

“It’s a challenge – usually you’ll be playing a lot of the same teams and players every single weekend.”

Iannone pointed out that both girls will likely be matched against second-year university students in their games – but she’s not worried about their chances.

“They’re that talented,” she said.

The athletes agree with Iannone that the greatest on-court strength of both teams  is ball control.

All four want to continue playing beach volleyball – although the girls have a distinct advantage in that regard, Iannone said.

While the men would have to find some other kind of sponsorship, there are many women’s beach volleyball scholarships available in the U.S.

“Both want to pursue university in the States,” she said. “Although Darby will be going to Douglas for a year, she’s looking at Florida right now.”

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