The Cayman Islands has a reputation for world-class beach volleyball and that was cemented with a recent regional competition.
Most of the visiting players had high praise for Grand Cayman hosting the North American, Central American and Caribbean volleyball federation Continental Cup. Public Beach saw 12 countries and 40 teams compete.
Trinidad and Tobago were the big winners in the tournament as the men’s side placed first. They advance to the next stage of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics. Among the men happy to play in Cayman was Sean Morrison.
“This is the best beach tournament we have been to in years,” Morrison said. “The vibes were right and everything was nice. The best we saw Bahamas play in the tournament was in the final against us. (Simon) Blake blocked perfectly in our game and the defence followed up. It was one of the best games in the tournament.
“Once we get home we’ll take three or four months off and we’re going to work to prepare for the next round. We have a Cuban coach back home, who started in January, that works with the national team.”
Morrison partnered with Christian Francois against the Bahamas in the final. They lost to Byron Ferguson and Princtanique Wilson in the second set 19-21, 21-19, 10-15. However team-mates Fabien Whitfield and Simon Blake would beat the Bahamas’ Muller Petit and Renaldo Knowles 21-17, 21-13 in the first set before downing Ferguson and Wilson 15-13 in the golden set.
Francois states the result was closer than it should have been.
“Bahamas played more aggressive and we played with too much confidence,” Francois said. “We didn’t train much at home. We played good opponents and we made it to the next round. We’re going to be training five days a week with the Cuban coaches. Then we’ll take a rest and come out with an attitude of togetherness for the next round.”
Aside from Trinidad and Bahamas, three other men’s teams advanced. Jamaica, sporting Andre McLean and Donovan Richards with Wayne Scott and Mark Lewis, placed third followed by St. Kitts (featuring Shawn Seabrookes and St. Clair Hodge with Carl Collins and Kenmoroy Percival) in fourth. Cayman’s pairs of Richard Campbell and Shervin Rankin along with Olney Thompson and Philippe Deslandes grabbed the fifth and final qualifying spot.
For Trinidad’s Whitfield (team captain) and Blake, the focus is on improving for next year.
“It was lovely and we worked hard to be here (in this position),” Blake said. “We just need to improve some more.”
“It’s a great feeling and real nice because everything worked out well,” Whitfield said. “The teams were OK, the last game was the most competition we got (against Bahamas). We believe now that we can go to the Olympics with hard training.”
Another visitor who praised Cayman was Sharon Bovell, who was part of the winning Barbados women’s team. She partnered with Mona Crawford and was joined by Anthazia Mason and Shari Matthews. Bovell states she will be encouraging others to come here.
“Of course I loved it, without a doubt,” Bovell said. “I’ll tell others about this place and encourage them to come. I loved the atmosphere and the people are very supportive. It was a lovely tournament and I loved it here.
“It always feels great to be champion. We played Trinidad in the first qualifier and it’s great to be a winner against them. This is a big accomplishment.”
Women’s runner-up Trinidad consisted of Pauline Woodroffe and Malika Charles along with Ayana Dyette and Elki Phillips. Curacao, fielding Kionna Gregorious and Cristal Gregorious with Samira Luis and Christine Anthon, placed third for the ladies. Fourth went to Jamaicans Cherine Richards and Cheryl Daley alongside Nardarake Hutchinson and Cherie Thompson. Cayman’s duos of Cristin Alexander and Jennifer Bily along with Taylor Burrowes and Stefania Gandolfi had the fifth and final qualifying spot.
For Cristal Gregorious, playing in Cayman marked her first visit and she left with a good impression.
“Being from Curacao, it was a different experience,” Gregorious said. “The flight was six hours and we stopped in Miami before coming here. I really liked it. The people are very welcoming. Being part of this tournament is a major achievement for our island. To qualify is the best thing ever. From here it will be lots of training with our coaches back home.”