The Cayman Islands could have made more volleyball history against Aruba.
Instead, the Dutch nation would beat Cayman in a pair of five-set thrillers at the 2014 North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation World Championship Men’s First Round Qualifier. Matches took place at the new Clifton Hunter High School Sports Centre in Frank Sound.
Cayman player/head coach Keith Higgins states the defeats are tough to accept.
“It was a very tough loss in the playoffs for the Cayman Islands,” Higgins said. “We did play very well, my guys tried really hard, especially in the third set, but in the beginning of the fourth Aruba took advantage from the beginning and it came downhill from there on. We trailed the entire match in that fourth set.
“We played Aruba to a tight, dramatic five-set game in the round robin stage and we were expecting fireworks again in the playoffs. It was a very even match-up and congratulations to Aruba and good luck to them in the next round.”
Cayman would lose to the Papiamento side 3-2 (17-25, 25-17, 25-23, 18-25, 10-15) before a 3-2 (25-21, 20-25, 25-11, 16-25, 13-15) defeat in the third place playoff game allowed Aruba to advance to the next round of qualifying in 2013.
Both matches had added intrigue. In the first encounter, Cayman lost the final set on a technical mistake as the hosts were ruled to have served out of sequence.
In the second match, there was an electrical short midway through the second set. While the Sports Centre only lost power momentarily, the lights needed five minutes to return to full brightness.
Higgins states the round robin loss was especially painful.
“We played some good volleyball in spurts but we lost points in our games. There were a lot of unforced errors and there was a lack of communication in the game. There was a mix-up at the end and officials are human like we are.
“Regardless of that last call, I’m not sure we would be victorious. We got to play better to win. It takes a whole game to win, we got most of the game but Aruba came back in the end.”
Cayman captain Olney ‘OT’ Thompson suffered a hamstring pull in the fourth set of the playoff game and could only watch as the hosts faltered. He states both defeats to Aruba presented different challenges.
“Everyone played well in the first match and we had to get ready for the next one and try to win that,” Thompson said. “We played a good game, unfortunately we had mishaps here and there that cost us points and the game.
“In the playoffs, honestly, I don’t know what happened. We kind of lost it. The game went so fast and I was focused on doing what I had to do. It happens. I was just trying to concentrate but unfortunately I wasn’t able to finish the match because of a small injury, I went down with a pull.
“I think I could have contributed a lot more, it’s too bad for the team that the captain was taken out. But the game was played well.”
Cayman ended the tournament with an abysmal 0-4 mark. In addition to the Aruba losses, Cayman were defeated by Suriname 3-0 (16-25, 23-25, 13-25) and Barbados 3-0 (17-25, 14-25, 20-25).
Serving as hosts for the first time, Cayman went into the competition as underdogs ranking 29th in the NORCECA standings. They shared that spot with Aruba. In comparison, Barbados were rated 12th in the region with Suriname ranking 14th.
Leading Aruba to victory was captain Eargenell De Cuba, who played through injury against Cayman.
“I had a sprained ankle in the first game,” De Cuba said. “It was difficult because I had to stop and I was not able to attack. It was difficult to jump high, I couldn’t run. It turned out OK, I got to perform and I was very happy with the result.
“The playoff was a good game, Cayman played well. It was not easy, what I told the guys was we had to focus. It was hard because we were tired but we were motivated to play with each other and play well. I’m proud of the team.”
All the visiting teams would excel in Cayman. Joining the Arubans, who finished 2-2, would be event winners Suriname and runners-up Barbados, with both nations sporting 3-1 records.
For Aruba head coach John Van Der Lee, the result is a fitting end to their trip to Cayman.
“I saw the players itching and I was itching for the win,” Van Der Lee said. “We really had no edge to play four games in two days. I knew that if the match extended, our chances to win were higher because of our age.
“We knew we’d win in five sets two straight games, that was a factor. We came here with a purpose, to advance to the next round and we fulfilled it.”