O'Reilly and her teammates will fight for Olympic qualification during the VNL 2024

Brie O’Reilly is going through a special moment in her volleyball career and she knows that. Long known by her former married name King, the setter is experiencing great success at both the club and the national team levels and she wants to make this period even more memorable with what would be a historic achievement by taking Canada to the Olympics for the first time in almost 30 years.

After playing professionally in Germany, the United States and France, O’Reilly landed in Brazil in 2022 determined to develop her game. That was, in fact, one of the reasons why she chose SESC Flamengo, where she would have the opportunity to work with legendary head coach Bernardo ‘Bernardinho’ Rezende.

After two seasons, O’Reilly certainly doesn’t regret her decision as, besides achieving the improvement she was seeking while winning three medals in national competitions and being awarded as the best setter in the Brazilian Superliga twice, she also found a new home in Rio de Janeiro, a city she grew to love and enjoy.

O’Reilly’s excellent moment on the court coincided with the ones of several of her national team teammates, which allowed Canada, who have arguably their best generation to date now, to dream of something they haven’t done in almost three decades – qualifying for the Olympics.

Currently in 11th place in the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Rankings, the Canadians are strongly in the mix in the race for the last four spots in Paris 2024 and will need solid results in the Volleyball Nations League 2024, which starts in O’Reilly’s safe place of Rio de Janeiro next week, to return to the Games for the first time since Atlanta 1996.

We dove deeper into the 26-year-old setter’s moment and aspirations in an exclusive Volleyball World interview.

Volleyball World: Your team SESC Flamengo ranked first in the regular season in the Brazilian Superliga before finishing third, their best result in several years. What do you think has made the team so strong this season?

O’Reilly: Our team has had a really special season. Very consistent, very united, like a family all going towards the same goal every day. I really get the sense that we haven’t wasted any days of practice. We’ve been really motivated. It definitely helped us find consistency and identity fast as a team because we had a lot of the same girls from last season. And the additions have only strengthened us.

VW: This was your second season in Brazil, living and playing in Rio de Janeiro. How is this experience turning out for you? Do you feel like you have connected with the country and the city on and off the court? Did you learn Portuguese at all?

O’Reilly: I have fallen in love with Brazil and specifically Rio. It’s no secret that I love the city and culture here, but the people have really made a difference. Everyone is so warm and genuinely grateful for life. I’ve found a lot of connection with my church here too and that’s made Rio really feel like home. I have been learning Portuguese, yes, and hoping to keep improving more and more.

VW: When you signed with SESC Flamengo, you mentioned that the possibility of working with coach Bernardinho was one of the reasons that took you there. How has this experience been reflected in our game and in which ways would you say it has developed in these two seasons? What are some of the things about Bernardinho that you just realized now, working with him?

O’Reilly: Working with Bernardo and his staff has been better than I could’ve imagined. His work ethic, humility and knowledge of the game have inspired me to be my best every day. Bernardo and I are really different, but I truly feel like he’s brought out the best in me. I think my game management, leadership and mentality have made the biggest improvement. And of course, my on-court skills are being refined daily because Bernardo LOVES to practice. It’s impossible not to get better in this gym. I am eternally grateful for getting to work with such a quality coach and human, and I’m certain it has made me better in every way.

VW: The 2024 season will be a big one for the Canadian national team. How important is it for you, personally, to get to the international season coming from such as strong club season, especially with the first matches of the VNL being held in Rio, where you live?

O’Reilly: This will definitely be the most important tournament of my career as we compete in VNL to fight for Olympic qualification. I’m really lucky to be starting that out in a city and gym that I feel at home in and supported in. I’m counting on Flamengo fans to be there to help us fight for every game.

VW: You are now playing at a high level in one of the best club leagues in the world and have established yourself with the Canadian national team. Would you say this is the best moment of your career so far or was there a moment in the past where you felt you were performing better or just feeling better?

O’Reilly: I’m really thankful for every step of the way in my volleyball journey. I think being in Brazil and competing at a high level every day has helped develop me. I feel the most confident I’ve felt as a player here in Rio with this team because I’m surrounded by people who are always pushing me and reminding me of my potential. I think I’ve really found my identity as a setter here in this team.

VW: You recently released your second album, ‘High Road’. What is it about and what inspired you? Does it somehow reflect this moment of your life?

O’Reilly: Yes, I’ve been able to release some more new music this year and more is coming! It’s tough to find time for it because of the intense volleyball schedule. But I love making and writing music. All the music I write is about life in some way. My goal is always to hopefully inspire people to look at life in a better way. Definitely, my music reflects my life and how I process life around me too.

VW: This summer, you and your teammates will try to qualify Canada for the Olympics for the first time since Atlanta 1996. How are you approaching this challenge and what kind of an impact do you think that could have on Canadian volleyball, especially considering that the men have already booked their tickets to Paris?

O’Reilly: Going to Paris has been the big goal for the last several years for our program. As our team has grown and improved, the goal has become more and more realistic. I think about the Olympics every day, it’s a huge motivation for every girl on Team Canada. It would be a dream come true if we qualify and will really be a testament to a lot of hard work over the past several years.

VW: You were awarded as the best setter in the Brazilian League in the last two seasons, your national team teammate Alexa Gray was huge for Prosecco Doc Imoco Conegliano’s victory in Italy last year and Kiera Van Ryk has been developing a solid career in the top European leagues. How important is it for the national team to have multiple players performing at this level?

O’Reilly: I think our whole national program is aware that we are in a really special moment with the number of world-class volleyball players we have in our gym. Volleyball is not a huge sport in Canada, and we don’t have a big program with tons of girls so it’s really special that we have such talent right now. I feel really honored to get to play beside such incredible volleyball players. We wouldn’t be able to consistently beat massive volleyball countries if we didn’t have the amount of talent we do right now. It’s super special.

VW: The Canadian national team is obviously on the rise, having had a best-ever 10th-place finish at the last FIVB World Championships, in 2022, and getting better results every year at the VNL and the continental events. What do you think has made the team progress so much recently and, considering how young the squad is, how exciting is it to potentially still have a lot of room for growth?

O’Reilly: I think our team has been improving at such a rapid pace the last few years because of the girls’ dedication to becoming the best we can be. The last couple of years especially more and more girls on the team are really pushing during pro season because we all know what we’re capable of if we all commit to becoming the best we can. No one has wasted a moment. We’ve been really aware that our team has the potential to do something special, and everyone has been locked into that. I’m so proud of how we’ve been pushing, especially in the long pro seasons. Everyone comes back each summer more dialed and more skilled. It’s really cool.