Beach volleyball will be all the rage in the Cayman Islands. This weekend sees the 2012 instalment of the North, Central America and Caribbean Confederation tour opener. Some 43 squads, representing 16 countries, will storm Grand Cayman’s Public Beach on 23-25 March.
All of the powerhouse teams from the region will be here including the United States, Canada and Mexico. Grand Cayman has hosted the NORCECA series opener the last four years. In 2011, a record 40 teams stormed these shores, eight better than the previous NORCECA mark. Every edition has seen more squads take part as the Cayman Islands attracted 17 squads in its first year in 2009 and 24 sides in 2010.
The Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation will oversee all of the action. Officials, such as tournament director Fareed Hosein, are looking forward to the challenge.
“The federation is pleased to host the NORCECA tour again for 2012,” Hosein said. “Our past successes has resulted in NORCECA requesting our Island to initiate and host the 2012 tour. Sinjin Smith will once again represent the International Volleyball Federation and will assess our capabilities to host a world championship event in the future.
“I would like the thank our sponsors, organisers and volunteers for making this all possible.”
The visiting athletes arrived on Wednesday and did some training on Thursday. Starting on Friday, action gets under way each day at 9am and continues until 9pm with free admission to the public. Aside from volleyball games, the beach should offers loads of music and local DJ talent, giveaways and products for sale from the sponsors.
Eight players will be representing Cayman – Andrew Gordon and Olney Thompson, Richard Campbell and Shervin Rankin, Duncan Hamann and Philippe Deslandes. Cristin Alexander and Jennifer Bily will be the lone female tandem.
Aside from Gordon and Hamann, those players recently took part in 2012 London Olympic qualification. Cayman reached the semifinals of the NORCECA Continental Cup (the main regional qualifier), which took place in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. This year marked the first time Cayman had advanced past the quarterfinal stage, which were hosted here last December.
Campbell, 27, is the star prodigy on the national team. The George Town native, who has made great strides in the sport the last few years, states the side is as ready as they can be.
“We’re using what time we can when we get off work and on the weekends to touch up on strategies,” Campbell said.
“We had guys down from the States to train us. Even though it’s not as much time as we’d like, we’re still comfortable with what we are capable of doing with the training we’ve been doing leading up to this tournament and the one in Nicaragua.”
The tour opener is the latest gesture by NORCECA in recognising Cayman. Earlier in the year, along with the International Volleyball Federation, it commissioned regional instructor Juan Cartagena to improve the sport here. He was the featured guest at a youth clinic and worked to implement a national youth development strategy for volleyball.
From there, Cayman was named the best host jurisdiction of beach volleyball during the past two years. A plaque designating that honour was awarded to Cayman’s governing body at a NORCECA congress held in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
A staple of the Cayman sports scene over the years, this weekend’s competition has attracted a number of local sponsors including the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports and Culture, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, Cayman Airways and cayCompass.com.
For federation president Noel Williams, the NORCECA tour opener is part of efforts to improve Cayman’s sports tourism status.
“We are contributing to the laying of a foundation for the staging of world championships, fitting the emerging national objective of a vibrant sports tourism component,” Williams said. “The performance of our national teams is benefitting significantly from these developments. I thank international tournament director Fareed Hosein, site and international games manager Carl Brenton and the entire volleyball federation board. They have been instrumental in us reaching so far so quickly.
“I also thank the numerous volunteers who have been giving unselfishly of their time and making it a continued success,” Williams said.