As an Olympic gold medallist, Todd Rogers has been spiking on beaches the world over.
He recently got a chance to pound the sands at Public Beach for the first time at the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation 2013 beach circuit opener. Rogers, 39, states it was an enjoyable experience.
“I’ve been here on a cruise in 1997 but this was my first time staying overnight here,” Rogers said. “Cayman and Caribbean folks in general are very nice and real polite. This is a relaxing country and atmosphere that fits the beach volleyball style, beach volleyball players are relaxed people.
“I’m hoping for more tournaments in Cayman and the Caribbean. This was my first tournament ever in NORCECA and everything in Cayman went real good. Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation President Noel Williams is doing a fantastic job.
“Before coming, I heard from other US and Canadian players that this is one of the premier tournaments on the tour. It’s very well run, the food and timing are really done professionally.”
Rogers, a California native, had a strong showing in Cayman, alongside new playing partner Ryan Doherty. The American duo would place second overall, taking home a silver medal and US$1,700. They would lose in the final to reigning champions Roberto Rodriguez and Eric Haddock of Puerto Rico, 0-2 (16-21, 18-21). Chaim Schalk and Benjamin Saxton of Canada claimed the bronze and US$1,150.
Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas of Canada won the women’s segment, taking home US$3,000. In second was American tandem Jennifer Kropp and Whitney Pavlik (they earned US$1,700) and in third were Jennifer Fopma and Brooke Sweat of the US (earning US$1,150).
The Cayman teams did alright. The female pairing of Jessica Wolfenden and Stefania Gandolfi advanced to the quarterfinals, losing to Broder and Valjas 0-2 (13-21, 11-21). Wolfenden and Gandolfi placed second in their group at 2-1, just behind 3-0 Kroop and Pavlik.
Cayman’s other female tandem of Jennifer Bily and Cristin Alexander would be eliminated in the tournament’s consolation bracket. They would lose to Diana Romero and Maria Vargas of El Salvador 0-2 (24-26, 12-21). Bily and Alexander went 1-3 in group play.
For the men, Shervin Rankin and Duncan Hamann placed 10th after losing to Puerto Ricans Hector Soto and Victor Rivera 0-2 (13-21, 21-23) in the consolation bracket. In the opening round, Rankin and Hamann rebounded from a 0-3 mark in group play to beat fellow Cayman players Richard Campbell and Philippe Deslandes 2-0 (21-19, 21-12). Campbell and Deslandes were 1-2 in group play.
Rogers, who is married to Melissa and has a daughter, Hannah, and a son, Nate, states the local spikers play at a respectable level.
“I would say the Cayman players are at a AAA stage, they play at a high amateur level. They’re not ready for the world tour, they’re not at that level yet because the Canadians and players like Ryan are bigger, taller guys.
“While Cayman is still a ways off for the world tour, so much depends on the younger generation and getting players to come through the ranks who are bigger and stronger. To reiterate, the Cayman players weren’t bad, just not at the tour level. With a lot of work, they could still get there. But they’re good guys, I like them.”
For Rogers, one of the story lines heading into Cayman was his partnership with Doherty. The two have played together less than six months after Rogers broke away from Phil Dalhausser, 33. Ryan Doherty, 28, is relatively new to the sport after pursuing a career as a professional baseball pitcher until 2007, when he was released from the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system.
Doherty, who is about 7 feet tall, states his journey to this point has been good.
“I was six feet tall in high school and by 17, I was seven feet tall,” Doherty said. “I stopped growing since then. After being released in the minors with Arizona, I had nothing to do. I lived with a friend in South Carolina, there was a beach volleyball court nearby, we bought the cheapest ball we could and played. After that, I moved out to California to play.
“Last year, I played in domestic events in California. This is my first international event and it’s great. They’re going to have a hard time getting me to leave. It’s really fun.”
While Doherty brings a fresh enthusiasm, Rogers, who is six feet, two inches tall, had the most success with Dalhausser. The duo won the 2007 Fédération Internationale de Volleyball World Championship, the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2010 FIVB World Tour Championship.
Rogers, who attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, states Beijing was the highlight of his career.
“Beijing wasn’t exactly the other day as we were just in London last year. Going to the Olympics is pretty cool. But certain parts of Beijing are emblazoned in my memory. It was a great success in my career. Most people couldn’t tell you what they were doing five years ago, I could.
“In my career, Beijing is the greatest highlight, no doubt. You have that opportunity, you go for it and you work for it. It was stressful but I made the most of it.
“Every athlete has dreams of the Olympics and reaching the pinnacle of their sport. For a long time, it was soccer. That was my first love. I played up to one year in college before I realized I couldn’t do it.
“I always did beach volleyball, I really enjoyed it. I got pretty good at it and eventually, I realized I have a chance of going places with this and I went from there.”
Cayman is one of 17 NORCECA tour stops in 2013, an increase from 11 in 2012. Prize money is expected to be US$16,000 per event. After Cayman, the tour shifted to the Dominican Republic over the weekend with the next stop being Guatemala on 17 to 22 April.