Everyone had a ball

It exceeded all expectations, that’s for sure. The Canadian men said they’ll be annoyed if they are not invited to the next one and the Puerto Ricans only have a few bars left that they haven’t had a drink at.

It may be a mouthful but quality of play at the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation Beach Circuit tournament on Public Beach was very easily digestible.

Three days of top quality international competition and the Seven Mile Beach was blessed with perfect weather and increasing crowds daily.

The clouds darkened during the finals on Sunday afternoon but the weather gods must have been enjoying the action too and we stayed dry.

The USA-1 Team of Jason Wight and Michael Bruning took the gold medal before a crowd of around 1,500 fans.

The Americans defeated the Cuba team of Sergio Gonzalez and Karell Peña in consecutive sets. The first set was hard fought with nine tied-scores won by USA 22-20, who then controlled the second one 21-17.

Canada took the bronze medal from Puerto Rico. Cayman Islands were eighth but that was no disgrace because Shervin Rankin and Olney ‘OT’ Thompson had not played at this level before, nor the women’s team of Wanda Brenton and Jennifer Bily who eventually came a credible fifth in their debut tournament.

Carl Brenton, Wanda’s husband and director of Cayman’s beach volleyball committee, was singled out for praise for his exceptional hard work, so too were Courtney Phipps and Michelle Carter.

The power of Cuba was the key in the women’s final. Nirian Sinal and Kirenia Ballar relied on their strong serves and attack to win gold by defeating the top seeded Mexican team of Vanessa Virgen and Polet Cruz. The score was 21-15, 21-12.

Malcolm Whetnall of main sponsors FirstCaribbean Bank said: ‘This was absolutely fantastic. Cayman Islands have done volleyball proud. FirstCaribbean is delighted to be one of the main sponsors to this huge event.’

Noel Williams, president of the volleyball federation, said: ‘Sometimes no one really believed that this would come through but I’m happy with how it turned out.

‘Every country that came sent their top players and I cannot express enough how grateful I am to Shervin and Olney as well as the women, Wanda and Jennifer, who worked extremely hard in representing Cayman.

‘This shows that we are not too small to host big things. We’re intending to send our teams to as many NORCECA tournaments as possible and this will be the only way they will gain enough experience to get to the next Olympics.

‘So I’m appealing to all potential sponsors to come on board, we can make great things happen in this great sport. In 2012 I want to see a Cayman team at the Olympics.’

Director of Sport Dalton Watler said: ‘I think the tournament went well although we did not get enough support from the financial sector but the volunteers did a tremendous job.

‘This is something that I’ve always been talking about, the importance of sports tourism.’

Minister of Sport Alden McLaughlin said: ‘This was beyond our wildest dreams. The support the Ministry gave ($30,000) is more than warranted.

‘This may well be what kicks off sports tourism properly in Cayman. The 20 teams from 13 countries that were here have all gone back and said what a wonderful country Cayman is. The warmth and hospitality of the people and the beauty of Cayman is really the best PR you could get.’

One player who will wholeheartedly endorse those claims is Costa Rica’s Betsy Cruz.

‘This is my first time in Cayman Islands and it’s beautiful,’ she said. ‘Everybody’s gentle and so nice that you feel like home. The organisation was perfect. Everyone had taken care of every aspect of the event and everyone was treated beautifully.

‘Of course I’m coming back. I’m coming with my family too.’

For full results go to the NORCECA website.

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