The recent success of Cayman’s beach volleyball teams made many happy, especially the veterans of the sport.
For the first time ever, the national men’s and women’s squads advanced past the first stage of Olympic qualification. The sides finished fifth in the North American, Central American and Caribbean volleyball federation Continental Cup at Public Beach.
Olney ‘OT’ Thompson was part of the men’s side with playing partner Philippe Deslandes. Thompson, 43, states the victory backs up his initial feelings that Cayman would advance.
“Us old vets boy, we knew it was time,” Thompson said. “It was just a matter of making the most of it. To have the girls take it to the next level, with one of the teams having trained not even a month, is awesome. The girls have already achieved the goal.
“For us the experience and talent is there. Sound guidance is also huge. It’s such a good feeling right now.”
Joining Thompson and Deslandes were Richard Campbell and Shervin Rankin. The women featured Cristin Alexander and Jennifer ‘JB’ Bily along with Taylor Burrowes and Stefania Gandolfi. Both teams used dramatic victories to make history.
Campbell and Rankin would beat out St. Lucia’s Julian Bisette and Dayne Williams 15-9 in the third set tiebreaker (called the golden set). Early on in the day Thompson and Deslandes would lose their game to Bisette and Williams 25-27, 21-17, 15-6. Campbell and Rankin would force the tiebreaker with a 21-15, 21-15 victory over Gillan Octave and Augustin Faulkner.
Deslandes states the victory was the icing on the cake for his 35th birthday (which officially fell on Sunday).
“I’m ecstatic and so happy,” Deslandes said. “I’m somewhat shocked but not surprised. It’s the best birthday gift ever. The fact that my fiancé (Stefania) also advanced means we’re both going (to the next stage) and she can keep me in her sights.”
On the ladies side Alexander and Bily had to battle against St. Kitts and Nevis. They took down Brenda Allen and Shanicia Dyer 17-15 in the golden set after defeating Andrea Liburd and Antoinette Henry 21-14, 21-13. Burrowes and Gandolfi would lose to Allen and Dyer in the first set 21-17, 6-21, 13-15.
Alexander, 23, is already a veteran in beach volleyball having taken part in three NORCECA events now. For the former Miss Cayman the victory was about mental determination.
“After our loss to Trinidad and Tobago, we were going to make it,” Alexander said. “We came out to win. We weren’t intimidated and it was a good showing.”
Her partner Bily saw the victories as a sign of Cayman heading into the right direction. With Burrowes and Gandolfi being a new pairing and Rankin and Thompson having new partners, Bily states more success will come.
“They can do it, they have the confidence,” Bily said. “With Stef and Taylor I can’t say enough about the effort they had. A big shout-out goes to them because they played all of the top teams hard.
“Cristin was very focus and took care of business. Golden sets are the hardest ones but I knew we were going to win. I love OT and Shervin but it was time to split them up. The young and old talent came together really well. It’s all good and I thank the Cayman fans because we had the energy we needed and it comes from them.”
To the delight of local officials like Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation President Noel Williams, Cayman now moves on to the next qualifier for the 2012 London Olympics in the New Year. A number of teams will join them such as Trinidad and Tobago, who saw its male and female squads go through. In fact Christian Francois and Sean Morrison with Fabien Whitfield and Simon Blake would earn first place in the men’s group while Pauline Woodroffe and Malika Charles with Ayana Dyette and Elki Phillips would place second in the women’s category.
Bahamas (with Muller Petit and Renaldo Knowles alongside Byron Ferguson and Princtanique Wilson) were second for the men and Barbados (featuring Anthazia Mason and Shari Matthews with Sharon Bovell and Mona Crawford) were the female runners-up. Jamaica (sporting Andre McLean and Donovan Richards with Wayne Scott and Mark Lewis) was third for the men while Curacao (fielding Kionna Gregorious and Cristal Gregorious with Samira Luis and Christine Anthony) placed third for the ladies.
Fourth place went to St. Kitts (sporting Shawn Seabrookes and St. Clair Hodge with Carl Collins and Kenmoroy Percival) for the men and Jamaica (with Cherine Richards and Cheryl Daley alongside Nardarake Hutchinson and Cherie Thompson) for the women.
For Cayman stalwart Shervin Rankin, 38, it is a major accomplishment Cayman held its own against 11 Caribbean countries.
“It feels good, I can’t describe it in words,” Rankin said. “It’s the first time and we’re on a high. Towards the end I was mentally fatigued and I was trying to stay focused. From here we just have to prepare.”