The NORCECA volleyball tournament wrapped up with its usual pulsating action on Sunday night and the men’s winners were crowd favorites Todd Rogers and Theodore Brunner, the USA-B team.
Rogers was the most celebrated athlete of all 64 athletes at the tournament on Public Beach, having won a gold medal at the London Olympics.
Rogers, 30, was a losing finalist with another partner last year. He so enjoyed his first visit to Cayman that he returned and went one better than last time.
They beat the USA-A team of William Montgomery and Stafford Slick in straight sets 21-12, 21-18.
A relieved Rogers said he was happy to get the gold medal this time.
“It’s nice to be at the top of the medal podium looking down this year after coming up short last time around,” he said. “The credit to my partner though because he played fantastic.
“His blocking and passing was excellent and it made my job much easier against a good team.”
In the semifinals, Rogers and Brunner overwhelmed Canada-B’s Andrew Hinchey/Ryan Vanderbug with relative ease 21-14, 21-13 while Montgomery and Slick saved three match points against last year’s champs from Puerto Rico Roberto Rodriguez and Erik Haddock before prevailing 13-21, 23-21, 16-14.
In the women’s final, Tealle Hunkus and Kimberly McGiven of USA-A won gold after clawing their way back from a first-set loss to outlast Canada-A opponents, Melissa Humana/Taylor Pischke in three sets.
Cayman had five teams at the tournament which had few scheduling issues because a third court was added for the first time.
Cayman’s top men’s team of Olney Thompson and Philippe Deslandes finished 12th overall at 1-3. Team two of Shervin Rankin and Richard Campbell also went 1-3, ending up 11th overall. Team three of Duncan Hamann and Ethan Manderson went 0-4 to finish last.
Cristin Alexander and Jessica Wolfenden were the women’s reps, winning two and losing twice, just missing out on the quarter-finals.
Junior girls Ileann Powery and Chante Smith-Johnson were Cayman’s other female pair. They lost both their matches on their NORCECA debuts but the teenagers were just there for experience.
Thompson said, “This year was definitely a step up. Every year is always a step up. The participation is phenomenal. Teams just fight to get here.”
He added that for those here for the first time, they could believe how beautiful the beaches are and how well organized the tournament is.
Thompson said that he feels Cayman has a lot to be proud of, considering so many of their opponents are full-time athletes whereas all Cayman players have to generate their own incomes or are students.
He is looking forward to trying to qualify for the Central American and Caribbean Games and other major tournaments later in the year by accumulating enough points on the NORCECA circuit.
Thompson was particularly impressed with the junior girls. “Words cannot express how well they did, they did an excellent job in this tournament,” he said.
“It wasn’t a blow out for them. For their first time to actually be in a NORCECA, they did an outstanding job and they are Cayman’s future.”
He added that he can see how much Powery and Smith-Johnson love volleyball and expects them to reach their potential eventually.
Thompson said, “Cristin and Jessica are still holding it up for the women and I see youth development coming behind them to eventually fill in for them. They too are doing great for us.”
Osbourne Bodden, minister of sports, attended on two days. He said, “The whole tournament, the way it is organized, the amount of people coming in for it, the level of play and all the beautiful sights makes it really appealing.”
Bodden added that this tournament bodes well for Cayman’s sports tourism reputation. “All of the players, organizers and from the top, including the premier, are really excited about this venue,” Bodden said. “It’s going from strength to strength and the government is proud to support it.”
He added that between the four major entities that sponsored NORCECA – Cayman Airways, Department of Tourism, the Olympic Committee and the Sports Ministry – the collective support was between $60-$70,000 and was good value for money.
Bodden is excited that on the strength of how well Cayman organizes NORCECA, it is in line to get a world championship qualifier.
“We’ve had six years of NORCECA and obviously it’s paying dividends,” he said.
“I know that the volleyball president (Noel Williams) is looking towards attracting the world’s top 20 teams later this year.
“If he pulls that off, then who knows, Cayman could become a venue of choice. That will be real awesome. I think sports tourism is on the up.
“We’ve bid for the 2017 World Beach Soccer tournament and if we get that then the sky’s the limit.”