Spikers focus on Costa Rica

Beach volleyball may have ended the year on a high note but Cayman’s top players are already thinking about 2012.

Earlier this month the national men’s and women’s squads made history by advancing 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.

One of the team members was Shervin Rankin, 38. He states the attention now is on excelling in Costa Rica.

“The next stage is in about three months time,” Rankin said. “If we train well we can be a force. We got to train. Personally I started only a couple days (before the Continental Cup) due to injury. I couldn’t train for the past few months. But right now the leg is feeling real good.”

Rankin partnered with Richard Campbell while Olney ‘OT’ Thompson paired with Philippe Deslandes. The women saw Cristin Alexander and Jennifer ‘JB’ Bily along with Taylor Burrowes and Stefania Gandolfi.

The next stage of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics is in Costa Rica. In February the Cayman men face Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama and hosts Costa Rica. All of those nations represent the top five countries from the Central America zone. The date and location for the women’s group is yet to be determined. At the end of qualifying (which will be roughly in April), the NORCECA continental champions will be granted an Olympic berth.

Costa Rica and Guatemala go into 2012 with arguably the most confidence as they claimed gold and silver respectively in the male and female segments. The sentiments of Costa Rican players, like Estevan Escobar, is of relief and celebration.

“Winning any tournament is hard, but specifically (when) you are the champion, you are the best team in Central America,” Escobar said. “Costa Rica has been winning for the last (few) years, so keeping up the tradition was important as well.”

Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation board member Carl Brown states Rankin and company will have their hands full with the Central Americans.

“We know there are serious beach volleyball demons on Costa Rica and Guatemala,” Brown said. “They are fierce competitors who do volleyball professionally in the US. We’re going to have to eat a lot of cassava and brush up on our breadkind from Cayman Brac.

“We know we have our work cut out for us but we’re not afraid. We’re dreamers and have worked hard to make dreams come true. We’re going to need some Cayman beat down spirit and as far as us winning I say why not?”

Six other Caribbean nations will join Cayman in Costa Rica based on this month’s results. They are Trinidad and Tobago (which won the men’s segment and finished runners-up with the women), Bahamas (men’s runners-up), Barbados (who won the women’s group), Jamaica (which placed third for the men and fourth for the women), Curacao (third for the women) and St. Kitts and Nevis (fourth for the men).

Out of those countries Cayman will be especially focused to take down Jamaica. The reggae nation beat Cayman in the quarter-finals. Rankin states Cayman has a score to settle.

“Jamaica got away because of injury. We hope to get them in the next round again. We have a point to prove for old time’s sake.”

For the record, 12 Caribbean countries and 40 teams competed in Cayman, tying a mark for the most sides ever at a NORCECA event. Matches, which were overseen by Fédération Internationale de Volleyball officials, were well attended and supported by the local crowd. That showing is pleasing to tournament organiser and local volleyball federation member Fareed Hosein.

“The event was another success for the federation,” Hosein said. “We continue to demonstrate the ability to host volleyball events of any calibre. Thanks to all the sponsors, volunteers, officials, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and Red Cross for helping to host this tournament.

“The importance of this event to Cayman and sports tourism is immeasurable as we attempt to close in on hosting a world championship.”