Everyone wants to play here

World class volleyball returns to the Cayman Islands soon, and for the next couple of weeks all roads will lead to Public Beach in preparation for the start of the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation series.

It all started with two clinics for children and adults last weekend at Public Beach. In conjunction with the NORCECA beach volleyball tournament, the Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation sponsored the youth clinic.

The clinic was run by two visiting professional beach volleyball players from California: Stafford Slick and Macin Jagoda. Besides the clinics, they were also here to coach Cayman’s men’s and women’s teams.

Cristin Alexander, the current Miss Cayman, who made her international debut in this tournament last year, will be competing again with Jennifer “JB” Bily, Cayman’s most experienced woman in the sport.

Cayman’s men’s team is comprised of seasoned vets Olney “OT” Thompson and Shervin Rankin, who have ambitions of making the Olympics next year in London.

All top three teams competing here gain points that go toward their Olympic qualification bid.

Randy Stoklos has arrived to train the Cayman players, and Sinjin Smith will arrive for the finals. Both are legendary in the sport and credited with pioneering the beach game as it is today.

Cayman a top venue

The NORCECA tournament is being held at Public Beach from 25-27 March. For the third year running

, it is the first tournament in the series, which is a great honour for such a small volleyball-playing nation like the Cayman Islands.

In fact, so well organised and warmly received is the tournament here that the Cayman Islands has already emerged as one of the top four beach volleyball events the world over.

Besides the many athletes, coaches and officials who come to the island, this tournament attracts plenty of volleyball fans who have heard about the lovely setting and Cayman’s first-class hotels, beaches, restaurants and hospitality.

It always gives the tourism industry a tremendous boost, which is why Premier McKeeva Bush turned up for the finals last year and why Mark Scotland, the minister of sport, visited several times.

20 countries field teams

There will be a maximum of 20 countries that will field female and men’s and women’s teams, and having Singin Smith here will add to the tournament’s lustre.

Also, Ana Paula Rodriques, the two-time Olympian from Brazil will attend.

On top of all that, FIVB, the world volleyball governing body, is sending representatives to assess the Cayman Islands as a venue for a world championship event.

Such is the appeal of this event, for the first time in NORCECA history, a tournament will have a waiting list.

Thirty-two teams are allowed, but the USA want to enter two teams, so provision will have to be made for them and Jamaica, bringing the total to 34.

Noel Williams is the president of the Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation. He said: “NORCECA said this is fantastic. The reason why teams like coming here so much is that not only are we very organised, but teams see Cayman as unique.

“Other nations don’t play on beautiful, clean sand by a clear, blue sea like we do. They transport the sand and play beside mountains or in cities. “We also look after the athletes better than others with first-class hotels and restaurants. In fact, the Marriott and Comfort Suites are already filled to capacity, so we have a nice problem of having to find extra accommodation elsewhere.”

Testament to Cayman’s popularity is that two American pros – Slick and Jagoda – were blocked from representing the US. Others will take their place.

“Stafford and Marcin did a great job of coaching for up to nine hours our teams,” said Williams. “We can’t even field a second team because there isn’t any space.

“After hosting two successful events, this year’s event promises to be bigger and more exciting with more top-ranked players competing for Pan Am games and Olympic qualifying points.

Admission is free from 9am to 6pm each tournament day.

Come cheer on your favourite teams from across the region, including Jamaica, Cuba, Canada and the United States, as well as the Cayman Islands.

For more information, view www.civf.ky or log onto www.caycompass.com

CLstory

Shervin Rankin has Olympic ambitions.
PHOTO: RON SHILLINGFORD
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