As good as Cayman’s national beach volleyball programme looks, one notable issue is player development.
In the last year or so, the Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation has shown a renown commitment to its community and youth programmes. Yet national players like Andrew Gordon, 37, feel more youngsters need to storm the beach.
“It would make me happy to see more youths and families playing beach volleyball knowing that Cayman is well-known as a volleyball destination,” Gordon said. “For the youths it would give more structure and eliminate time to get in trouble.
“About the only other difference between us and the other teams is we as players work full-time. The other teams play full-time and at this level you need more time on the beach.”
Gordon was part of the eight-member Cayman team that played on Grand Cayman’s Public Beach for the fourth straight staging of the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation 2012 tour opener.
Gordon, who took part in the tour opener two years ago, partnered with Olney Thompson. The other male pairings were Philippe Deslandes and Duncan Hamann plus Shervin Rankin and Richard Campbell. Jennifer Bily and Cristin Alexander were the lone female tandem. All would propel Cayman to one of its best showings as the men finished fifth on the male side, thanks to Rankin and Campbell advancing to the quarterfinals, while the ladies were seventh.
The NORCECA tour is continuing in other Spanish-speaking countries this year with the next stops being 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 locales Cayman will compete in.
A closer look at Cayman’s line-up shows there are some questions as to the sustainability of local talent. Gordon is one of three players over the age of 35 (the other two are Rankin, 38 and Thompson, 44). While Alexander and Bily are elite players, they are the only two consistent female representatives these days.
The federation does have lofty goals targeting junior development. A highlight this year will be Cayman’s participation at a summer camp for youth players in Madawaska, Canada on 27 August-1 September. At the start of 2012, Cayman hosted junior clinics with International Volleyball Federation instructor Juan Cartagena and American pros Chara Harris and Megan Wallin.
Cayman also had the opportunity to host the youth women’s final for the Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association, a regional organization under NORCECA and the FIVB (however the federation declined as it was unable to host that competition and the NORCECA tour opener in the same month).
Federation vice president Kennedy McGowan had stated previously that the plan is to reach the next Island Games.
“Ultimately we’re eyeing the 2013 Island Games,” McGowan said. “We just need enough exposure and training for the period of time leading up to Bermuda. In the mean-time we’re developing a national training programme for beach and indoor volleyball. With the help of Juan (Cartagena) we will ensure it’s within the guidelines of NORCECA and FIVB.”
In a short span of time, a number of female talents have shined in the junior programme like 15 year-olds Chante Smith-Johnson and April Ebanks. Interestingly, both have excelled in other disciplines, namely athletics and basketball.
Gordon finds solace in their examples as he feels sports should be a major focus for all residents.
“Sports are amazing. For one, they keep you in shape, get you fit and promote healthy lifestyles. Secondly, they give you something to do as a family. I’ve always been involved in sports as I used to run track and field in high school.
“My wife Trina (Gordon) has an interest in basketball and volleyball. She used to play basketball in Canada for awhile and played for the Island Heritage Silver Mist in this year’s national women’s league. I have a son Micah, 4 and for the family unit sports are amazing.”