Our spikers appreciate support

Christmas is about spreading cheers and giving thanks. One sports group in a festive mood is Cayman’s national beach volleyball team.

Earlier this month, the men’s and women’s squads advanced past the first stage of Olympic qualification for the first time. Cayman placed fifth at the North American, Central American and Caribbean volleyball federation Continental Cup.

Among the team members was Richard Campbell, 27. The George Town native was the talk of the tournament and states the team’s success is due to local support.

“On behalf of all of the players I’d like to thank the sponsors, fans and Cayman public,” Campbell said. “Merry Christmas to all and a happy New Year. The fans and support we had made a major impact on us. Personally I’ve never represented my country in front of a crowd like that.

“It helped (playing partner) Shervin (Rankin) a lot. He never played in prime-time in front of the home crowd. It was major for the team to have our people there to support us. That can only help us keep going.”

Campbell partnered with Shervin Rankin while Olney Thompson and Philippe Deslandes teamed up. The women featured Cristin Alexander and Jennifer Bily with Taylor Burrowes and Stefania Gandolfi pairing up. The teams achieved the mark on Grand Cayman’s Public Beach under the watchful eyes of the Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation.

The list of sponsors for the competition included the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports and Culture, the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee, Cayman Airways, caycompass.com, CIBC First Caribbean International Bank, Corona, Z99.9FM, Vibe 98.9FM, LIME, Funky Monkey and BDO.

Six other Caribbean nations will join Cayman in the next round in Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Curacao and St. Kitts and Nevis. The male teams will be put to the test in Costa Rica in February. At that time they take on the top five teams from the Central American zone in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama and hosts Costa Rica. At the end of qualifying next Spring, the NORCECA continental champions will be granted a berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

Campbell, who has shown skill in other sports like darts and flag football, states he is not worried about the New Year schedule.

“I’m not nervous, a little sketchy about training. My shoulder is sore and that’s all I’m worried about. The break over Christmas will be good and mentally I’ll be good to go again.

“I’m not nervous about the competition. We start back in the New Year and it’s all about player training with Shervin. It’s just sinking in that this is a pretty big deal. We have more stages to go through but for what we’ve done, especially having no coach, it’s a pretty big achievement.”

The Continental Cup success caps off what was a busy and productive year for Cayman volleyball. In March Public Beach staged the annual NORCECA circuit opener, which attracted an all-time high 40 teams (eight better than the previous mark). In November Spikefest attracted a number of Caribbean teams for indoor volleyball.

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