Local Sports: Samantha Gagnon’s volleyball background runs deep

It wouldn’t be far off to say Samantha Gagnon was born to play volleyball.

Both her parents — Terry and Shelley — played the sport at a high level and while they didn’t push Samantha into the sport it was in her genes.

“I got involved in the sport when I was 12 and joined the U13 Central Alberta Queens Club team,” she explained. “I admit my first year wasn’t that great, but my parents encouraged me and I stuck with it, fell in love with it and the rest is history.”

Samantha’s dad played with the University of Manitoba Bisons and with the Canadian National team. He competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and also played professional volleyball for three years. Shelley (nee Brewster) was a star with the RDC Queens before playing two years at the University of Alberta, receiving the Pandas MVP award in the 1986-87 season.

“My parents helped me a lot,” said Samantha. “They have so much knowledge of the game … they really motivated me.”

Gagnon developed into one of the premier outside hitters in the Queens program and with the Notre Dame High School Cougars. Her skill level and leadership qualities earned her in invitation to join the UBC Okanagan Heat for next season.

She committed to the Kelowna, B.C. squad, along with Cougars teammate Jade Bussard.

“The process was put into motion about a year ago and I made the commitment last Fall,” said the 18-year-old from Red Deer.

“It was an easy decision. I wanted to play at the U-Sport level and I love the city and the weather. Their program is very competitive and has a highly regarded reputation.”

Gagnon plays primarily on the left side, but has played on right side.

“It doesn’t matter to me … wherever they want me, as long as I can play.

“I believe my strength is in the back row … serve receive and defence,” she added. “My hitting may not be as strong, but I love it and will work hard to keep improving. I love getting the kills and turning around and celebrating with my teammates. But also first contact and helping set up the play is as rewarding.”

Having Bussard along, helps as well.

“It makes it a little less scary,” she said.

Samantha had other options, including RDC.

“I dreamed of playing U-Sport … that was my No. 1 goal, but if it didn’t work out I would certainly looked at RDC. They have a great program and I’m kind of envious of the new facility.”

Gagnon, who took Grades 5 and 6 in Innisfail before switching to Red Deer, is in her seventh season with the Queens Club program.

“It’s an elite level, which helps in our development. I’ve worked with some excellent coaches including Chris (Queens head coach Wandler) and (two-time CCAA champion coach) Talbot Walton. You learn so much working with them.”

Gagnon and Bussard played with the Team Alberta U17 squad last season, helping them finish 11th at the USA High Performance Championship in Florida. This season the pair are with the U18 Queens program, which is one of the top teams in the province.

Samantha is also a talented musician, playing a number of instruments, and could have concentrated on music at a higher level, but says “volleyball is still my first love.”

She also excels in math and finances and will go into the Business program at UBCO.

‘I want to concentrate on my education as well and Business gives me a lot of options,” she concluded.

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at drode@reddeeradvocate.com

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