Raise the nets and sweep the beach. Professional volleyball returns to the Cayman Islands this weekend, when Public Beach at Seven Mile Beach will play host to an international tournament sponsored by the North, Central American and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA).

The Cayman Islands will be represented in the men’s and women’s brackets, and the pool of competitors will include teams from the United States, Puerto Rico and Cuba, among others.

Play begins at 9 a.m. Friday and ends with the championship rounds on Sunday.

Two Olympians – Corey Patterson of the U.S. and Jamie Broder of Canada – are among the contenders, but the Cayman team holds an interesting footnote. Marissa Harrison, 15, will be the youngest player in the tournament for the second straight season.

“I’m so excited,” Harrison said last week of competing for her country in the NORCECA tournament. “Last year we had such a big crowd. It was so inspiring to see all my family out there motivating me, screaming and cheering. It was a lot of fun. I think it’s going to be a really big crowd this year also.”

Volunteer coach Jeff Smith demonstrates skills on Seven Mile Beach.

This will be the ninth straight year that Cayman has hosted this tournament, and it’s the second stop on the NORCECA circuit this season. Cuba won the men’s and women’s brackets at the first tournament on the schedule, in La Paz, Mexico, earlier this month.

This year, Harrison will be playing with a new partner, veteran Stefania Gandolfi. Ileann Powery and Taylor Burrowes will be the No. 2 women’s team for Cayman. Casey Santamaria and David Wood will represent the Cayman Islands on the men’s side.

Referring to her experience last year, Harrison said, “I definitely think it’s going to help because last year was even tougher than this year. I just stepped out and had to play. I had never played with my partner before. This time, we’ve prepared a lot more. I’ve been practicing this entire week with Stephania, so we already know each other pretty well. We’ve already trained together, so I think it’s going to be a lot better.”

Marissa Harrison, left, and Stefania Gandolfi will be playing together for the first time at the NORCECA tournament.

For Harrison, who has verbally committed to play beach volleyball at Florida State University, every chance to compete on a grand stage brings her closer to maturation in her chosen sport. She practiced at Public Beach last week, returned to her home in San Diego, and was to arrive back in Cayman on Thursday for the weekend tournament.

“It’s a professional tournament,” said Jeff Smith of 692 Beach Volleyball club in San Diego, California, who volunteered as a coach for Cayman last week. “The best teams in the world come to this. It’s an opportunity for players to develop and shine and work hard. It’s something that’s special to this island.”

Free seating is available for the tournament, and tickets will be on sale for covered seating.

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