Debut event boosted net gains

Cayman’s first staging of an
international volleyball competition last year was so successful that organisers
immediately pencilled in a repeat.

So there will be a multitude of
spikes, digs and blocks next week when for the second year running the North,
Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation launches its 2010 season
at Public Beach, George Town.

The NORCECA Beach Volleyball
Circuit will expand to a total of 14 stops this year and runs here from 19-21

“We are excited about the start of
the competition in Cayman Islands,” said Arnaldo Sanchez, Technical Director of
the circuit. “Cayman’s organizing committee did a tremendous job last year and
we are expecting another marvellous event.”

Last year’s event was a complete
success and Noel Williams, President of the National Federation, has been
working well ahead of schedule with his colleagues in order to ensure a well
organized competition.

Last year, Americans Jason Wight
and Michael Bruning won the men’s competition by defeating the Cuban team of
Sergio Gonzalez and Karell Peña 2-0 (22-20, 21-17) in front of more than 1,500

Canadians Ahren Cadieux and Richar
Van Huizen beat Puerto Ricans Orlando Irizarry and Roberto Rodriguez 2-1 to
take bronze.

In the women’s division the gold
medal went to Cubans Nirian Sinal and Kirenia Ballar who defeated the Mexican
team of Vanessa Virgen and Polet Cruz 2-0 (21-15, 21-12) while Americans
Kristen Batt and Megan Wallin claimed third place by beating Guatemala’s Maria
Jose Orellana and Anna Ramirez 2-1.

Consensus amongst visiting
competitors and officials alike was that Cayman was one of the best organised
and nicest places they had been to anywhere in the world.

Local interest comes from veteran
pair Shervin Rankin and Olney ‘OT’ Thompson who have played together since
their university days in the Nineties.

Duncan Hamann and Andrew Gordon are
the other men’s side.

The women’s first team is the
experienced pairing of Wanda Brenton and Jennifer Bily. Newcomers are Tarasa
Barnett and Cristin Alexander.

Rankin said: “It’s exciting,
everyone’s looking forward to it, the Island as a whole and everyone coming
here. Everyone enjoyed it last year, especially the players from other countries.
More countries are coming this time and we expect to have all the 16 slots
filled, both men and women.”

Rankin and Thompson came eighth in
Cayman last time. They hope to improve this time, particularly because they
finished fifth the following week in the Dominican Republic.

Rankin, 37, who used to work in
high finance, recently started his own floating furniture business. Thompson,
42, is also self-employed with his own car rental and satellite dish companies.

Running their own enterprises both
find it incredibly difficult to put the necessary time in to train for
volleyball but will nevertheless be in excellent shape for this one.

The long-term aim is to qualify for
the Pan Am Games next year and the London Olympics the year after. With the
help of Williams, they think they can do it.

They are using the NORCECA events
to prepare for the Central American and Caribbean Games in Puerto Rico in July
where they hope to win a medal.

“Hopefully, if we can get some
sponsorship and financial backing we can focus properly with the help of
coaches on getting to the Pan Am Games and London,” added Rankin.

“The top teams like the Cubans,
Americans and Canadians compete on the world circuit full-time. They are
effectively paid professionals which makes it difficult for us to compete with
these guys who do it day in day out.

“That’s why when you look at who
dominates in the Olympics and other championships, its athletes who are full
paid professionals.”

Rankin perseveres because he still loves
the sport. He hopes to inspire the next generation of Caymanians to take up
volleyball and reach a higher level.

All four teams have just come back
from training camp in Florida and recently had some coaches over from California
for clinics.

“We want the Cayman public to come
out and support us. We hope for bigger and better things than last year.

“Competitors who came here had
issues with other stops but when they came to Cayman they were pleasantly
surprised and are looking forward to coming back.”

Thompson said: “We’ve got a little
bit more experience under our belts now and we’re hoping to be a lot more
competitive this time.

“It’s wide open and you never know
where it’s going to go. Cayman is a safe and clean island compared to where
we’ve been to. There is no comparison.”