Local beach volleyball players, like Andrew Gordon, have their sights on international kudos.
The North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation 2012 tour opened on Grand Cayman’s Public Beach for the fourth straight year last month. Now the focus is on upcoming stops in Spanish-speaking countries.
Gordon, 37, helped Cayman place in the top ten for the region and states the goal now is to improve.
“Everything went phenomenal and the preparation was awesome,” Gordon said. “The committee did a great job and the other teams consistently said it was the best stop they’ve been on. It was great all-around with a great environment and everyone had the best time of their lives here.
“In spite of not much training, Cayman did really good. Considering the short time we had to work with, it was a great tournament. Now we’re going back to the drawing board. There are more NORCECA stops and we can do better with more time in training.”
The NORCECA tour now shifts to Boca Chica, Dominican Republic (6-8 April), Miami, Florida (either 4-6 May or 12-14 July), Mexico (Colima on 11-13 May and Chiapas on 18-20 May) and Varadero, Cuba (8-10 June). Cayman did not have a presence at the tour’s second stop last month in Guatemala and it is not clear how many countries Cayman will compete in.
Gordon, who took part in the tour opener two years ago, partnered with Olney Thompson for 2012. The other male pairings were Philippe Deslandes and Duncan Hamann plus Shervin Rankin and Richard Campbell. Together they propelled Cayman to a fifth place ranking with 110 team points, just behind the US (140 points), the Dominican Republic (160 points), Canada (180 points) and Puerto Rico (200 points). Rankin and Campbell also earned US$330 for advancing to the quarterfinals.
On the ladies side, Jennifer Bily and Cristin Alexander were the lone pairing and they put Cayman seventh in the region. With 80 team points, a number of countries were atop the standings in El Salvador (100 points), Guatemala (110 points), Canada (140 points), the US (160 points), Puerto Rico (180 points) and Mexico (200 points).
Gordon states he is like many of the Cayman players in that he is used to international competition.
“I’ve been playing since 1999 in US tournaments and in Jamaica. I haven’t been consistently playing as I was off for awhile (going to Turks and Caicos in 2002 and 2003). In 2005, I got back into it.”
For the record, Roberto Rodriguez and Erick Haddock of Puerto Rico along with Mexican ladies Bibiana Candelas and Mayra Garcia went through the tournament here undefeated. They earned gold medals along with a US$1,700 cash prize. Male runners-up Samuel Schachter and Maverick Hatch of Canada and female runners-up Marta Revueltas and Vanessa Virgen of Mexico took home silver and US$1,000.
Bronze and a US$750 prize went to Canada’s Joshua Binstock (the 2011 champion) and Martin Reader for the men and Puerto Rico’s Yarleen Santiago and Yamileska Yantin for the women.
Most of the foreign players are pushing ahead on the tour circuit. Many, like Virgen and Steve Vanderwerp of the US, had nothing but glowing reviews for Cayman’s ability to host.
“I have been coming to the Cayman Islands for the NORCECA tour since 2009 and this tournament gets bigger and better every year,” Virgen said. “The organizing committee does an exceptional job welcoming the players and providing the world-famous Cayman Islands hospitality during the weekend. I hope to keep coming back to Cayman every opportunity I get as this is the most popular tour stop.”
“The Cayman Islands is a wonderful beach volleyball destination,” Vanderwerp said. “I have been to a lot of tournaments around the world and this event held by the Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation is first class.”
Aside from foreign players, the opener also featured International Volleyball Federation World Beach Council President Sinjin Smith and three FIVB referees in Americans Dan Apol and Keith Murless plus Puerto Rican Carlos Rivera.
Smith, 54, states the results of the Cayman tournament were surprising.
“The level of play this year was good as usual,” Smith said. “Puerto Rico’s win on the men’s side was incredible. They got some great ball control, which outweighed its trajectory. Mexico, who were in the final for the women, really shined in the tournament. We knew Mexico was good but for its two teams to go through Canada, Puerto Rico and the US was incredible.”
Smith, who is from California, previously stated that Cayman is primed to host more international events with the support of local government, the Cayman federation and local sponsors. There has been talk of Cayman hosting other competitions in the future like a world championship and a Pan-Am Games.
In fact, the Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association, a regional organization under NORCECA and the FIVB, was slated to stage its youth women’s final here last month (the Cayman federation opted out of it as it was unable to host that competition and the NORCECA tour opener in the same month).
Whether or not Gordon and the other Cayman players star on a bigger stage here, companies like LIME, with employees like Daniel Tatum, are willing to lend their assistance.
“I’m the head of consumer sales and a big advocate for beach volleyball,” Tatum said. “LIME is behind this tournament because it’s quality, wholesome stuff for the community. It’s great for the country as it gives kids something to aspire to. It’s good stuff and we want to expand our reach into this.”