When Jen Hinze stands up Friday night as the keynote speaker for the 40th annual Western Canadian Independent Schools' Volleyball Championship, she'll be talking to nearly 100 teenage girls. She'll know a lot about them without knowing them at all.
"I feel like I was just there," she said. "Six, seven years ago for me, which isn't that long ago, I feel I'm not too far removed from them."
A lot happened in the years since she graduated from Lord Byng high school in 2006. Hinze set herself apart.
In five years with the University of B.C., Hinze, 24, won four national varsity championships as a T-bird, making them the most decorated volleyball team in Canadian collegiate sport. She was repeatedly named to regional and national All-star teams as an outside hitter or middle blocker, and the six-foot-two Hinze was awarded the Therese-Quigley prize for her academic achievements and community service as a student-athlete and in 2010 was recognized out of 2,200 of her peers across the country as one of eight Academic All-Canadians.
Hinze competed for Team Canada, wearing the Maple Leaf at the Pan American Games, the World Championships and at an Olympic qualifying tournament. The latter delivered an incredible sense of awe, but also a major disappointment: Canada, ranked 20th, did not crack the tough ranks of the 12 best teams in the world and did not compete at the London Summer Games.
Incredible accomplishments for any athlete, never mind one who wasn't good enough to make the first team she tried out for.
"I didn't make my Grade 8 volleyball team. Maybe I was tall and gangly," said Hinze. She remembers being five-foot-seven that year and by Grade 10 her growth accelerated. She made the cut the next year.
"I really just wanted to do it. It had really irked me the year before [to not play]. My competitive side was like, 'No I'm going to try out and I'm going to make this team.'"
One season later she was playing on the high performance team with the Thunder Volleyball Club. Influenced by her coaches, including Joanne Ross who was named the top UBC female athlete in 1999, Hinze considered for the first time where sport could lead her.
"When I first made it, I had not envisioned what I had just started. I didn't consider scholarships," she said.
One thing she knew for sure was the passion she had for the game. This is the feeling she'll share with the Grade 11 and 12 volleyball players who will come from across Western Canada to compete this week at Crofton House.
Her message for the athletes will have everything and nothing to do with volleyball.
"The importance is having passion in our life. Whatever your passion: go for it."
If they can discover and pursue whatever it is that makes them feel like they don't want to do anything else in their life, said Hinze, this is what they should chase after.
"The fact that [they] have this and do it and go for it, then these girls can pretty much do anything. They're worried right now that they have to go to university and pursue certain subjects. But I think it's important that you go into what you actually love and in the end you'll be successful."
Eight private school girls volleyball teams from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are in Vancouver this week to compete at Crofton House for the Western Canadian Independent Schools' Volleyball Championship.
The tournament prizes commitment to participation and cultural exchange over competition, said tournament director Gerald Lambert.
"There is no sense of having to compete in order to qualify. That's what makes the games special. You know you have the same teams coming to the tournament every year."
Started by Alberta's Strathcona-Tweedsmuir in 1972, the tournament sees 12 teams compete each year. Vancouver's York House School also participates. The tournament is hosted by a different school each year and host school families billet the visiting athletes. If a school is unable to attend for two consecutive years, a new school is invited to partake in the tournament.