Some of Cayman’s best beach volleyball players are about to take centre stage and confidence is brimming over.
The Cayman Islands are fielding four doubles teams in the North American, Central American and Caribbean volleyball federation Continental Cup on 2-4 December. The tournament serves as the first round of 2012 Olympic qualification.
The men’s side consists of Shervin Rankin and Richard Campbell while Olney ‘OT’ Thompson teams up with Philippe Deslandes. The women see Jennifer ‘JB’ Bily and Cristin Alexander along with Stefania Gandolfi and Taylor Burrowes.
Rankin, 38, is recovering from pulled groin, hamstring and abductor muscles. He was out for four weeks and practiced for the first time with Campbell last Friday. Nevertheless Rankin states Cayman are in great shape to advance.
“This is probably the most complete team we’ve had,” Rankin said. “It’s a good group that should get good results. The crew is definitely solid. Based on the guys that have shown up, everyone is a good compliment to each other. This is first time the men are playing together and my first time playing with Richard. I’m trying to give the young boy a chance.
“For the ladies, JB and Cristin have been playing together a year now and the chemistry is slowly and surely coming together. They have excellent height for blocking and spiking and they are good blockers and attackers. Once they put in more hours and train they can get better. They just have to get out to the beach more.”
Cayman will host 11 Caribbean countries and a total of 40 teams. The visiting teams are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahamas, Curacao, Dominica, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.
The number of teams is a NORCECA record, eight better than the previous mark. The Olympic qualifier comes after the 2011 edition of the NORCECA beach volleyball tournament back in March saw 40 squads. While none of the Cayman teams advanced deep in the competition, it was a boon for the Island in its third year hosting the circuit opener. Cayman attracted 17 teams in its first year hosting the first stage of an annual global circuit in 2009 and 24 sides last year.
For Campbell, 27, he is simply focused on his chance to play alongside Rankin.
“It’s a real honour and priviledge to play with Shervin this tournament,” Campbell said. “I feel confident as I continue to play with the local legend.”
The top four teams from the NORCECA Continental Cup advance to the next stage of Olympic qualifying next year, which Cayman could host once again.
One of Cayman’s veterans eyeing a spot in that next stage is Thompson, 43. He states his age will not be a factor.
“Philippe has a lot of experience and together we’re playing with lots of experience,” Thompson said. “We’re a pair that has chemistry and a good connection on the court. We will do well as we’ve practiced and played a lot together to get the chemistry. My game is about power and big blocking. I can still bring a lot to the table.
“My old partner Shervin is more about scoring and a smart, technical game. The combo of Philippe and I should do well. For Richard this is his first Olympic qualifier, which he can use for future events.
“I’ve been competing 15 odd years, so people like Shervin and I can say we’ve been there, done that. There’s nothing new with the competition we’re going to confront. If anything their games might be wild because the majority of them are indoor players.”
Ten Fédération Internationale de Volleyball sanctioned officials will oversee and manage this event. One volleyball federation member will be a special guest in world famous Sinjin Smith. A distinguished volleyball and University of California, Los Angeles Hall of Famer, Smith along with Randy Stoklos – who was in Cayman assisting with preparing teams for the March games – are celebrated as the greatest team in beach volleyball history. Stoklos has the individual distinction of 11 international and world championships under his belt and hailed as the ‘King of the Beach.’
Smith is a part of the volleyball federation’s beach volleyball commission presiding over the sport in 219 member countries including the Olympic and international games. He has served as president of the volleyball federation’s beach volleyball council. Smith and Stoklos are credited with calling Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach “the best beach volleyball venue in the world.”
Deslandes hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia and his fiance Gandolfi is on the women’s team. He feels Smith and the other spectators can look forward to a good local showing.
“I played in the NORCECA tournament last year with Duncan (Hamann),” Deeslandes said. “This is my first time with OT, the old vet. I’m looking forward to the tournament. I feel we are a good team together. With OT on the block and me on defence it works really well, we understand each other. As long as OT sets good and my defence is up to standard, we should be OK.”
The Olympic qualifier sees action on three courts 9am-10pm on Friday and Saturday, 2-3 December, with two courts in play 9am-6pm on Sunday, 4 December. Admission for all three days is free.
The sponsors include the Department of Tourism, the Ministry of Sports, the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee, Cayman Airways, caycompass.com, Corona, Z99.9FM, Vibe 98.9FM, CIBC First Caribbean International Bank, LIME, Funky Monkey, and BDO.
There is a special appeal for volunteers. Anyone interested in assisting can e-mail [email protected] or visit civf.ky