Our hospitality netted top marks

Beach volleyball’s popularity in the Cayman Islands is set to soar after another successful staging of the biggest tournament in the region’s calendar.

For three days last month, Public beach was the hub of sporting activity for the third consecutive annual staging of the North America, Central America and Caribbean volleyball federation’s first tournament which travels around the region until the end of the year.

Judging by the consensus from officials, coaches and athletes, Cayman ranks above all of them in terms of organisation, beauty and friendliness.

That’s why 40 teams were crammed into a tight schedule two weeks ago, the first time NORCECA has allowed more than 32 teams to compete in one tournament.

As a measure of Cayman’s rapid rise, they only hosted 17 teams in their first year, 2009, and 24 last time.

But the word has got round quickly and athletes don’t just come to compete on the golden sand beside a pristine, clear blue sea, they also love going to the unique Stingray City, Turtle Farm and Dolphin Discovery.

Cayman’s part-time players had three teams entered and although collectively they only won one match out of nine, they played their hearts out against mostly full-time professionals.

They were entered by local volleyball president Noel Williams.

Shervin Rankin and Olney ‘OT’ Thompson beat Trinidad but lost the others. The other men’s team was Duncan Hamann and Philippe Deslandes. They are total novices at this level and played together for the first time and were just learning from the experience.

Cayman’s women’s team of Jennifer ‘JB’ Bily and Cristin Alexander are also a relatively new coupling. Like the others can draw from the experience and aspire to rise.

Fareed Hosein was the tournament director. He said: “NORCECA 2011 was another success for beach volleyball in the Cayman Islands. The organising committee has shown that it can put a sustainable product together each year and grow bigger and better in the process.

“Our goal now is to host a world tour event. We have the infrastructure and capabilities, what is needed is increased levels of sponsorship.

“Once again I would like to thank all of our sponsors that made this possible and reiterate what their support will mean to the future of sports tourism in the Cayman Islands, especially our gold, silver and bronze sponsors, Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports and Culture, FirstCaribbean International Bank, Cayman Airways and the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee.”

Gary Bromfield of Cayman Airways said: “It was an outstanding event, well attended, entertaining and a most professionally run tournament, with a marvellous display of skills and prowess in an idyllic location. Who could ask for more!

“I’m hoping to invite a larger contingent for next year and Cayman Airways is proud to be the official airline partner with the volleyball federation in helping make NORCECA 2011, the huge success that it was. We’re looking forward to an even bigger and better 2012.”

Jaslyne Bridges of PwC said: “PwC was pleased to be able to participate in a world class event that brought together 40 teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean. This event really showcases what the Cayman Islands has to offer.”

Robert Baraud of High Impact Media said: “High Impact Media was very excited to be a sponsor at this year’s event and was very pleased with the success and high level of organisation and professionalism exhibited by the organisers. Having High Impact’s digital LED billboard on-site with sponsor logos and advertisements alongside player bios, enabled the event to achieve a new dimension technologically, and also enabled increased exposure for all of the tournament’s sponsors.”

The players were just as impressed. Esteban Eccobar of Costa Rica men’s team said: “The Cayman event was world class. I’ve been lucky to play all over the world and this event had everything that a player looks for in a volleyball tournament.

“I felt that the players where the number one focus of the tourney and making sure we were comfortable and happy. They catered to our needs in every way and even set up some extra activities like the Dolphin tour which was incredible.

“What better place to play a beach volleyball event! Beautiful white beach with some nice hot weather. Hey, that is why we play this sport right, to sweat your butt off while competing at the highest level. And the water was crystal clear and so refreshing.”

Jon Mesko was in the USA2 team with Paul Baxter. They got to the quarter-finals but lost to the eventual gold medallists, Canada’s top team of Rich Van Huizen and Josh Binstock.

Mesko said: “I’ve played in the highest level tournaments across the USA for the past seven years and I’ve never been treated better than at the NORCECA Grand Cayman stop. Everyone was amazing and treated the players with respect and professionalism at all times.

“This event will be one I will not miss in the future. Besides the event being great and the promoters and staff being great, the vacation attractions on Grand Cayman are amazing.

“We swam with the stingrays, dolphins, and snorkelled in between matches. Few other tournament locations could even be in the same conversation. I would love to see a world tour event come to Cayman in the future.”

Martha Revuelta played for Mexico in the women’s final with Xitlali Herrera. They lost to the top American team Brooke Hanson and Lauren Fendrick. Revuelta said: “The tournament was awesome, the best NORCECA tournament ever!

“I loved it, the people, organisation, everything and the island is so beautiful. I wish I could stay forever.”

Chaim Schalk was in the Canada men’s second team with Martin Reader that lost in the bronze medal match to the best Mexican side, brothers Ulises and Lombardo Ontiveros.

“The tournament was a huge success and everything went very smoothly,” Schalk said. “It was definitely an event of world class quality and we can’t thank everyone enough for all the support we had throughout. We are already looking forward to coming back next year.”

Anyone wishing to get involved in future tournaments as volunteers or officials should visit www.civf.ky. To see more photos, go to our picture galleries here.