As many college athletes ended their vacations last December, Rachael Meilikhan, BHSc ’23, was preparing for her first international beach volleyball tournament with Team Canada.
The Queen’s outside striker represented Canada at the 2021 Under-21 World Beach Volleyball Championships held in Phuket, Thailand. In the tournament, which took place from December 14-19, Meilikhan and partner Alexandra Lachapelle finished second in their pool in preliminary matches.
After the preliminary round, Meilikhan and Lachapelle advanced to the pre-quarterfinals, where they lost in straight sets to Czechia. The Canadian duo came 17and out of 31 teams in total.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Meilikhan said in an interview with The newspaper.
“It was our first international tournament, which is a bit crazy. We didn’t know what to expect.”
Meilikhan said she marveled at the grandeur of playing on the beach courts in Thailand’s hot climate and 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 beautiful country, [on] such beautiful courts 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 makes me so much better because I play against so many different types of gameplay.”
Reflecting on their loss in the preliminary quarters, Meilikhan said while it was disappointing to concede a loss, it doesn’t take away from the value she places on the experience.
“After losing it was still an amazing experience because we were able to watch all the rest of the games,” she said. “It’s so much fun watching people who are so good.”
“I would say [the tournament] motivated me in the sense that I know what I am capable of. I am excited to apply this in future opportunities.
Meilkihan started 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. ‘university. Had she chosen to pursue the beach, she would have gone to the United States, but the Toronto native decided to stay in Canada to stay close to her family and build her indoor career at Queen’s.
“When I made this 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 the beach and I still want to play,” she explained.
Beach volleyball has become Meilkihan’s summer activity alongside her friend and teammate Lachapelle, who has been her beach partner for five years.
When their bid for 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 returned to Toronto to train before heading to Phuket in early December.
For Meilikhan, this tournament helped her develop her mental resilience, something she learned during her three years of training in Queen’s high-level environment. She hopes to bring her experience in Thailand to the team this season.
“Although [beach and indoor] are different, all the mental aspects are the same,” she said.
International tournaments come with more stressors – matches are broadcast live, family and friends watch from home – and not letting the stress get the better of Meilikhan’s passion for the sport was a big deal. priority.
“[Just] remembering that I play volleyball, like I love it. I’m in Thailand, it’s crazy, and I should just enjoy every second,” Meilikhan said.
“Staying in the moment and forgetting mistakes has always been very important to me.”
As Gael continues to play for Queen’s on the court this year, she also hopes to continue to expand her beach game outside of Canada.
“Now that I have 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 that I played against the best in Canada. So I just want to see what else is there.