Rachael Meilikhan takes beach volleyball to the international stage

Queen’s outside hitter recounts her experience at the 2021 Beach U21 World Championships

Rachael Meilikhan, pictured.
Credit: 
Supplied by Rachael Meilikhan

While many varsity athletes were winding down for the holiday break this past December, Rachael Meilikhan, BHSc ’23, was winding up for her first international beach volleyball tournament with Team Canada.

The Queen’s outside hitter represented Canada at the 2021 Beach Volleyball U21 World Championships held in Phuket, Thailand. In the tournament—which ran from Dec. 14-19—Meilikhan and her partner Alexandra Lachapelle finished second in their pool during preliminary play.

After the preliminary round, Meilikhan and Lachapelle advanced to the pre-quarter finals, where they lost in straight sets against Czechia. The Canadian duo came 17th out of 31 total teams.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Meilikhan said in an interview with The Journal.

“It was our first international tournament, which is kind of insane. We didn't really know what to expect.”

Meilikhan said she marveled at the grandeur of playing on beachside courts in the warm Thai climate and at the lessons she learned from being in such worldly and talented company.

“It was just a really cool experience because [we were] playing outside of Canada for the first time and also just playing in such a nice country, [on] such nice courts right by the water. It was so beautiful,” she said.

“I feel like the more places I go, the more people I meet, the more athletes I play against, that exposure just makes me so much better because I play against so many different kinds of gameplay.”

Reflecting on their loss in the pre-quarters, Meilikhan stated that although it was disappointing to concede a defeat, it didn’t take away from the value she attributes to the experience.

“After we lost, it was still an amazing experience, because we got to watch all the rest of the games,” she said. “It's just so fun to watch people who are so, so good.”

“I would say [the tournament] motivated me in a sense that I know what I'm capable of. I'm excited to apply that in future opportunities.”

Meilkihan began playing beach volleyball at the age of 13, around the same time she started playing indoor volleyball—playing both gave her more options when deciding where to go to university. If she chose to pursue beach, she would have gone to the States, but the Toronto native decided to stay in Canada to remain close to her family and build her indoor career at Queen’s.

“When I made that decision [to play for Queen’s], I was like, okay, I don't want to be a full-time indoor player. I still really, really love beach, and I still want to play,” she explained.

Beach volleyball became Meilkihan’s summer activity alongside her friend and teammate Lachapelle, who has been her beach partner for the past five years.

When their application to the World Championships was accepted last summer, they trained with the Canadian national team from May to August. Meilikhan returned to the Queen’s team in the fall. Then, in November, she went back to Toronto to train before heading to Phuket in early December.

For Meilikhan, this tournament helped her develop mental resiliency—something she learned from her three years of training in the high-level environment at Queen’s. She hopes to bring her experience in Thailand back to the team this season. 

“Even though [beach and indoor] are different, the whole mental aspects are the same going in,” she said.

International tournaments come with more stressors—games being live-streamed, family and friends watching from home—and not letting the stress trump Meilikhan’s passion for the sport was a big focus.

“[Just] reminding myself that I'm playing volleyball, like I love it. I'm in Thailand, this is insane, and I should just enjoy every second of it,” Meilikhan said.

“Staying in the moment and just forgetting about mistakes has always been really big for me.”

As the Gael continues to play for Queen’s on the court this year, she also hopes to continue expanding her beach play outside of Canada. 

“Now that I got a taste of where I could go, I want to go to more places and meet new people and play against different athletes,” she said.

“It’s safe to say I've played against the best in Canada. So, I just want to see what else is out there.”

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