Volleyball Gael competes in Poland

Stuart Hamilton makes first trip to the World Junior Beach Championships

Stuart Hamilton, right, prepares for a pass at the World Junior Beach Championships.
Stuart Hamilton, right, prepares for a pass at the World Junior Beach Championships.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Hamilton
Hamilton, right, and Queen’s teammate Peter Galbraith prepare to receive the ball during the 2005-06 regular season.
Hamilton, right, and Queen’s teammate Peter Galbraith prepare to receive the ball during the 2005-06 regular season.
Journal File Photo

For varsity volleyball player Stuart Hamilton, every day for the past four months has been just another day at the beach. But make no mistake, it was no picnic.

Hamilton and his partner Ryan DeBruyn, of the University of Winnipeg, have just returned from a 10-day trip to Poland to compete in the World Junior Beach Volleyball Championships.

“It’s a process that basically started in March and went until a week before we left,” he said.

Both players worked and trained full-time, including fundraising and making all the necessary arrangements for the trip.

“It’s not like we could just show up at the airport,” Hamilton said.

The pair was responsible for booking flights and hotels as well as handling incidental expenses and food.

He said the experience was eye-opening but completely worth the time and effort.

The qualification process started a year ago at Youth Beach Nationals 2005. In order to make it onto the world team, the pair had to finish in the top four of their age category. They finished first in the Under-19 category and took home the bronze in the Under-20.

A three-day training camp followed, with the winner of a mini tournament, held last March, advancing to the main draw of the world championships. Runners-up Hamilton and DeBruyn, along with the third-place pair, entered another qualifying tournament in which they had to advance at least to the quarterfinals to enter the main draw.

The team was seeded 13th and opened the tournament with a win over Puerto Rico.

Hamilton and DeBruyn went on to beat Latvia before losing to Poland 13-15 in the third set. Poland continued to the main draw, eventually claiming the bronze medal.

Hamilton said the Polish community was out in full force to support its team and cheer on all the rest.

“I’ve never signed so many autographs,” he said, adding, “I’ve never signed autographs, period.”

Having only one Team Canada jersey each, he and DeBruyn had to politely decline when fans asked for their shirts, he said.

One of the best parts of the trip was being able to compare Poland and Canada, he said.

“It’s just a totally different culture.”

It was also a great opportunity, he said, to talk to teams from Australia and the United States, who were able to play beach volleyball year-round.

While he said he loves to play on the beach, Hamilton is looking forward to his second season with the Gaels.

But he said he will need to make some adjustment to his game before settling into the indoor season.

“[Beach volleyball] improves some aspects of your game and ruins other aspects,” he said.

But he said doing both helps him get better every year.

“It’s a good way to switch things up.”

A former junior champion speed skater, Hamilton began playing volleyball eight years ago at Glashan, an inner city public school in Ottawa.

“The coach is really good at getting kids out of that vicious cycle [of self-destruction] and into volleyball,” he said.

While basketball and hockey are the popular sports at most schools, Hamilton said volleyball was highest on the social ladder at Glashan.

“The peer pressure was to play volleyball,” he said.

The school had a total of nine boys’ and girls’ teams.

“I’d never touched a ball up to that point. After that I was hooked,” he said.

With their main rivals Ryerson and McMaster making high profile additions to their line-ups, Queen’s will likely resume their underdog status, but Hamilton said that’s the way he likes it. He said team planning helps to set them up for success.

“We set goals at the beginning of each year. It grounds us, I think.”

He said all the players on the team need to be willing to take bad days in stride and work towards becoming the best team they can be at the end of every season.

“I like that it’s the mentality that most of the guys on the team have,” he said, adding that he’s prepared to pull his weight.

“I’m looking forward to being a larger part of the team.”

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