Volley of thrills is guaranteed

Public Beach is the busiest place to be sports wise this weekend.

The 2009 battle for qualifying points will commence at the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation Beach Circuit tournament on Public Beach.

Long-time beach volleyball partners Olney ‘OT’ Thompson and Shervin Rankin will represent Cayman in the men’s competition, while Jen Bily and Wanda Brenton will partner against the women.

Both teams have trained hard and each brings more than a decade of experience to the court.

A former Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation president, Thompson, 41, has played for nearly 20 years. Following a colourful high school career he left Cayman with a four-year scholarship to New York’s Concordia College. While there he helped move his college team from NCAA Division 2 to Division 1. On his departure, the team was ranked at No.2 on the East Coast behind Penn State University.

He has since represented the Cayman Islands on several occasions at the CAC, Pan-American and Island Games; and has played in the NORCECA Beach Volleyball Circuit for the last five years.

Rankin also shared the spotlight with him at Concordia College, and has since gone on to achieve many accolades from the international volleyball community.

He too has represented Cayman at the CAC and Pan-American Games, and on numerous occasions at the Islands Games.

Rankin, 36, has been awarded most valuable player and best server at the 1999 and 2001 Island Games respectively; received the Venus Invitational All-star Award twice; and was voted the highest scoring player at the 2007 World Volleyball Qualifiers.

Competing together during the 2007 Island Games, Thompson and Rankin took home the gold medal for the Cayman Islands.

‘Our ultimate goal is to make it to the Caribbean Games in Trinidad,’ Rankin explained. ‘So this leg is a great preparation for that and helps us build points towards our ranking.’

‘More importantly, it’ll help us identify the gaps in our preparation and recognise the standards we must achieve to compete during this season.’

On Wednesday night the Cayman pair were training with the American team of Michael Bruning and Jason White.

The whole event is the brainchild of Cayman’s volleyball president Noel Williams who along with his dedicated team has made it happen.

Cayman’s women’s are also pumped for competition.

‘I am thrilled and honoured to be representing Cayman in such a prestigious international event,’ Bily said. ‘I believe there’s a top finish in our future.’

A chiropractor, and health and fitness trainer by profession, Bily has lived, worked and trained in New York and Georgia.

She has played in New York’s Big City Volleyball League and in many US East Coast and American Volleyball Professionals qualifying tournaments.

Over the years she has also facilitated many volleyball camps and clinics. Since relocating to Cayman she has partnered with Brenton for beach volleyball, but is also training with the Cayman Islands Women’s Indoor Volleyball team that will compete in June’s Island Games.

Brenton, a player since the seventh grade, has honed her career playing for the St Francis Xavier University and Malaspina College University teams.

No stranger to awards for her efforts on the court, she helped the Cayman women’s team place fourth during the 2007 Island Games.

Both women have cemented their partnership and technique during several US South Region Beach Volleyball Tournaments.

‘Our goal is to inspire young Caymanian girls who want to learn how to play,’ Brenton said. ‘We have one of the best facilities in the world to play on, so we want to help develop beach volleyball here in whatever way we can.’

The tournament, which runs from 9am through 6pm from today to Sunday, is scheduled for the Seven Mile Public Beach. And though the beach will be closed to bathers, admission to the event is free and all are welcome to attend.

Event sponsors include the International Volleyball Federation; Ministry of Sports; FirstCaribbean International Bank; Cayman Islands Olympic Committee; Admiral Administrations Ltd.; Artista Salon; Calico Jacks; Cayman Free Press; Celebrations; Comfort Suites; Digital deSigns; Gatorade; K-tone; Jacques Scott; Progressive Distributors; the British Red Cross; Tower Marketing; and Z99.

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