World tour looks set for here

Although it has yet to be confirmed, the Cayman Islands look set to be added to the volleyball world tour next year on the strength of the three NORCECA events it has staged.

The last one at Public Beach accommodated 40 teams for the first time in NORCECA history, eight more than the previous maximum. Considering there were only 17 teams here in the first year of staging this event here in 2009 and 24 that is a considerable expansion for newcomers to staging such colossal events.

High praise then to volleyball president Noel Williams, minister of sport Mark Scotland and the fantastic team that made it all possible in March. Cayman top men’s team was Shervin Rankin and Olney ‘OT’ Thompson and their men’s second team was Duncan Hamann and Phillipe Deslandes. Jennifer ‘JB’ Bily and Cristin Alexander, the current Miss Cayman, represented Cayman in the women’s competition. All three Cayman teams battled hard but against mainly full-time athletes it was too difficult to get to the latter stages.

The gigantic pairing of Canada’s top team of Richard Van Huizen (6ft 9ins) and Josh Binstock (6ft 6ins) defeated Puerto Ricans Roberto Rodriguez and Christopher Underwood 21-19, 21-14 in the men’s final for the gold medal. It was a gutsy performance by Van Huizen who battled with cramps in both legs during the final day and had to play two three-setters before arriving into the final match of the competition.

Like everyone else, the winners left Cayman with fond memories. Binstock said: “This was our first tournament together so we weren’t sure how we would battle and the games we won were very tough but it was a character-building experience, for sure.

“You simply can’t say enough about the Cayman experience. All my buddies who have been here before told me about how great it is, but it surpassed any expectations that I had. It’s the best NORCECA tournament I’ve been at. It honestly feels like a world tour event. Everything is first class.”

Van Huizen endorsed that. “There are some distractions here, beautiful sea and beautiful women but we persevered,” he joked. “This is better than some world events – how well it is organised, the food, transport… It’s a domino effect. Everything is so well organised, it’s incredible. You walk out and the stadium is full. It’s a very high qualify event, absolutely.

Binstock added: “We’ve only been playing together for two months. We hadn’t been pushed like we were in this tournament. We went to a couple of games that went to three sets. Those were tough battles and to win those together built character for us.

“To get to the Olympics is possible and realistic. Rich broke up with his partner and my partner got married and wants to take the next step. I used to be a blocker but now I’m the short guy so now I’m a defender. So we figured we could put a lot of pressure on teams with our size.”

Binstock had only one minor grumble about the tournament here. “The scheduling could be improved. Maybe have the games online so that the players can know beforehand instead of just saying to us to be ready whenever. I’ll be back though, you can believe that.”

Liz Maroney said: “I’ve never been to the Cayman Islands before and it’s beautiful. You guys have a lot of volleyball fans and it was a great tournament to play in. Because there were so many teams, you could have done with a few more courts and the scheduling needn’t have been so tight.”

Brooke Hanson and Lauren Fendrick of USA1 claimed the gold medal following a straight-set victory over Mexico’s top pairing of Martha Revuelta and Xitlali Herrera in the women’s event.

It was the third win of the day for the American duo who earlier defeated Mexico2’s Vanessa Virgen and Cinthia Cruz and beat Canada2’s Heather Bansley and Elizabeth Maloney.

Bansley said: “It’s beautiful here and you have a gorgeous beach. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. I really enjoyed my experience here in the Caymans and hopefully we’ll be here next year and I I’m looking forward to being back.”

Maloney said: “This was our first competition of the season so we were just getting back into competition mode. So we’ll just have to work on being more competitive and the will to win.”

They squeezed in visiting Stingray City before going home the next day.

The women’s winners are full-time players focused on getting to the London Olympics next year and coming away with a medal. They started playing together last season and had moderate success.

Hanson said: “London is constantly on our minds and have a month by month plan. Cayman is gorgeous, the people here so nice and giving of their time and that’s what makes it so special for me. The beaches and waters are great and tomorrow we’re going to do a dolphin adventure. I don’t want to leave!”

Fendrick said: “I don’t want to talk about my medal chances but I put in the work day in day out and we take it tournament by tournament, game by game, point by point. We try not to have too high expectations because all teams are good and they can beat you on any given day.

“This was my first time in Cayman and I love it. The people are so friendly and great. It was so nice to see a full stadium of fans. We had a lot of support, it was nice. For the world tour, the location will be perfect, absolutely.”

Tournament director Fareed Hosein said: “I’m very happy that we made it through the three days of the tournament with no major incident or hiccups. Everything went very smoothly and the team did a very good job. It was a lot of hard work but we’re doing it for the Islands and for bigger and better things and I think we’re getting there.

“The feedback from the players, coaches, officials and fans was all good and positive. The only negatives were that we need more stands, more space and perhaps a little more shade so maybe we might have to look for a different venue. These little things will probably have to be improved upon.

“I think we definitely had a good shot at impressing the world tour officials. It’s very impressive coming from a player like Rich who has played on that tour. He’s got a lot of experience and knows how the players are treated and how the organisations are run. So for him to go on the radio here and to tell everyone that this is how the organisation should be done is quite pleasing and important to us.

“How we need to improve is to bring the top players in the world here next year.”