Teen volleyball star aims to grow Cayman game

Jeff Smith and Marissa Harrison after addressing the assembly at John Gray. - PHOTO: Spencer Fordin

Marissa Harrison, ace student and star volleyball player, has taken on the role of her sport’s chief ambassador to the Cayman Islands. Ms. Harrison, who has verbally committed to play beach volleyball at Florida State University, spent Tuesday trying to inspire her peers to pick up the game.

The 15 year old visited John Gray High School and addressed an assembly of more than 200 students, advertising a free clinic that will be held at Public Beach on Seven Mile Beach at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

Ms. Harrison, who moved from Grand Cayman to California at age 9, hopes to ultimately grow the game in her homeland.

“I don’t think it will be too hard,” she said of enticing her fellow countrymen to play beach volleyball. “The Cayman Islands have some of the most beautiful beaches in the entire world, so once people realize how much fun it is, I don’t think it will be that hard to [get] them into the sport.”

The youngster told the students that her love affair with volleyball has burned brighter and brighter over time. When she left Cayman, she said, she loved football, like many of the kids in attendance. But then a friend invited her to play indoor volleyball, and the rest is recent history.

Ms. Harrison has made a quantum leap in her game in a short time, and her coach, Jeff Smith of 692 Beach Volleyball Club, is convinced that many of her Caymanian peers can do the same. That is why he’s invested in growing the game, and he sees the Cayman Islands as a blank canvas for volleyball artistry.

“You can tell when kids want to be there or don’t want to be there,” said Mr. Smith. “We have some groups that are just social. They want to get to the beach and learn how to play and hang out with their friends.

“The majority of our girls are like that but it’s like anything: Kids just eat it. And that’s what we hope. We hope we have the kids who want to do it socially and have fun and be part of the sport. And if they’re not the next Olympian, we’ll find the kids that are the next Olympian.”

At one point in the assembly, Mr. Smith asked the kids who had played volleyball. Only a few hands shot up, and Mr. Smith invited two students to the front of the room to demonstrate passing the ball. They struggled to achieve the proper form, though, and the coach told them it’s a difficult task.

“It’s a really hard thing to do,” he said. “Marissa makes it look really easy, but she’s been playing for four years.”

Ms. Harrison, who now lives in San Diego, California, will represent the Cayman Islands at the NORCECA tournament later this month, and her passion for the sport is what drives her to greater heights. School and sport dominate her life, but she wakes up each day excited to attack the game again.

She said her drive to publicize the sport in Cayman stems from how much volleyball has given to her in a short period of time.

“I have all my family here and they’ve helped me along in the whole process, so really it’s just fun for me to see it grow in the Cayman Islands,” she said. “I saw two of my best friends basically from kindergarten just yesterday when I was visiting a school. It was crazy just how much they’ve grown up, and it honestly wasn’t that awkward at all. It was like we had just seen each other last week.”

Mr. Smith told the students he hopes to see many of them at the free clinic at Public Beach.

“There will be some free clinics all summer long, and we’re going to go into a youth beach program that will go year-round,” said Mr. Smith to the students. “You’ll be able to train just like Marissa does in the States. You’ll be able to travel to the States to play in tournaments if you start getting to that level. And in the future, maybe for the national team.

“We’re trying to grow the sport here, and we hope that in the next six or seven years, that maybe somebody in this room will be the next Olympian. It could be you.”

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