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Canadian beach volleyball duo Bansley, Wilkerson advance to quarter-finals at Tokyo Olympics

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Canadian beach volleyball duo Heather Bansley, left, and Brandie Wilkerson celebrate after advancing to the quarter-finals at Tokyo 2020 with an upset win over Americans Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images - image credit)
Canadian beach volleyball duo Heather Bansley, left, and Brandie Wilkerson celebrate after advancing to the quarter-finals at Tokyo 2020 with an upset win over Americans Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images - image credit)

Canadian beach volleyball duo Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson advanced to the quarter-finals at the Tokyo Olympics with a 22-24, 21-18, 15-13 win over No. 3-ranked Americans Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in their opening knockout match at Shiokaze Park on Sunday.

The No. 16 Canadians saw the opening set slip away despite a great start, regrouping to finish the job by claiming the second and third.

Bansley and Wilkerson improved to 2-2 in the tournament following the upset victory, and they will face Latvia's Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka on Tuesday at 8 a.m. ET.

WATCH l Bansley, Wilkerson upset U.S. to advance at Tokyo 2020:

The Canadians regained composure and focused on their gameplan after losing a set that was initially going their way.

"We just had to kind of look to each other for advice, confidence and just sticking to the plan and staying very present to each point," Wilkerson said.

"Anything can happen in these games, these are high-level games, you can never really ever be comfortable, even with something that seemingly seems like such a large gap. So I think we were just ready to win today and we weren't going to give it up."

The American duo came into the match riding a hot streak, having clinched first place in Pool D with a perfect 3-0 record.

Canada stormed out to a 7-3 lead in the opening set and continued their great start to take a commanding 11-6 advantage. Forced to dig deep, the Americans rallied back to make the score 14-13 before a miss from Wilkerson tied the game.

The teams continued to go back-and-forth, with four service errors preventing the Canadians from closing out the set. Claes secured set point to put the U.S. up 23-22, and an ensuing response from the Canadians fell short.

The Americans maintained momentum in the second set as they took a quick 4-0 lead, forcing Canada to burn a timeout in an effort to halt the surge. Canada weathered the storm and began to narrow the lead despite continued pressure from the opposition.

Bansley hammered one down the line to make it a 10-5 game, and a timely block from Wilkerson brought Canada within a point.

Canada levelled things up at 12 points apiece, and it became clear that another tight finish would settle the set. Bansley put Canada up 17-16 before following it up with another point. An error from Claes put Canada in full control, and Wilkerson went on to close out the set with a powerful spike.

WATCH l CBC Sports' The Olympians feature on Bansley and Wilkerson:

The two teams quickly found themselves deadlocked again in the third set, but Bansley came through once again to put Canada ahead with a 10-8 lead. The Canadian duo inched closer to victory with a 13-11 lead as the frustrated Americans argued a call with the line judge following a controversial review that was initially ruled in their favour.

"I mean it sucks, but it shouldn't have come down to that third set. We did such a good job in the second, and then let them back in," Claes said.

The U.S. team had its back against the wall, and Wilkerson cemented Canada's place in the quarter-finals with the match-winning point.

"We're just taking it one match at a time, and especially today, it was really point by point. And it paid off for us and we'll look to play similar and play our best," Bansley said.

Bansley and Wilkerson finished the group stage with a 1-2 record in Pool C. They lost their opening match to undefeated Chinese duo Wang Fan and Xia Xinyi, and they bounced back with a straight-sets win over Argentina before dropping their third match to Brazil's Ágatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda Santos Lisboa.

"This whole tournament is about managing emotions and expectations, and so I think that Brandie and I definitely did a better job as a team of doing that today compared to our play in pool play," Bansley said.

Canada's other team in the tournament, Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, are set to take on Spain tomorrow night in their first knockout match. The reigning world champions finished the group stage with a 3-0 record as the only team to not drop a set.

Bansley competed alongside Pavan at the previous Summer Olympics in Rio, where they lost their opening knockout match after going undefeated in the group stage.

Pavan and Humana-Paredes face Spain's Liliana Fernández and Elsa Baquerizo tomorrow at 9 p.m. ET. All matches will be streamed live on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports' Tokyo 2020 website.

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes pursuing Olympic history:

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