Volleyball action takes over Cayman beach

It was not the best they have done, but Cayman volleyball players Jessica Wolfenden and Stefania Gandolfi said they were pleased with their ninth place finish in this year’s NORCECA Beach Volleyball Tour.

“We’re very happy with that,” Wolfenden said after the team received the ninth-place spot based on points.

It was the best finish among this year’s four Cayman teams – two women’s and two men’s teams – with no team advancing out of the first round of play.

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Wolfenden said she and Gandolfi finished fourth in 2016. That is the only time a Cayman team has made it to the semi-finals.

Play continued on Sunday with the top players in the tournament, which featured 36 teams from 15 countries, facing off in the finals at 4 p.m. Results of those games will appear in Tuesday’s Compass.

Wolfenden and Gandolfi faced formidable opponents in their first two games against teams from Canada and the United States. After losing to those two teams, they came back to beat the US Virgin Islands and Trinidad and Tobago.

Gandolfi said she enjoyed teaming up again with Wolfenden. Last year, Cayman did not host a NORCECA stop.

“It was nice to be back on the court with her, on the home court with the fans on our side,” Gandolfi said. “We have fun playing no matter what.”

The Cayman Islands is the second of 10 stops on this year’s tour, which started in Mexico on April 18 and runs through the rest of the year.

Cayman organisers opted out of the tour last year to focus on local development.

“We took the money and did more with the developmental stage,” said Javid Ali, technical director for the Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation. He said the funds were used to send three coaches to the Dominican Republic for training. Canadian coach Rick Bevis was also recruited to strengthen the programme and officials worked to introduce volleyball into schools in order to recruit younger players.

“The whole goal is to train a lot of the PE teachers so they can teach it and teach it the right way,” Ali said.

Cindy Joe is directing the youth programme and said initial tryouts this year drew 50 prospective players. The federation now has two 18-member squads, one for boys and one for girls, and is planning to send a junior national team to Jamaica for competition later this year.

“We’re really hoping to improve our pipeline and grow our volleyball community,” Joe said. “Our slogan is volleyball for life.”

Federation President Kennedy McGowan said the organisation is receiving support from the government and a number of private donors, as well as the community at large.

“We had an overwhelming amount of support from the locals in terms of volunteers,” McGowan said.

Despite taking a year off, he was expecting record crowds at this year’s tournament, most of whom turned out Saturday afternoon and Sunday. The VIP section was enlarged to accommodate the anticipated increase, he said.

The tournament benefits the islands’ tourism business, McGowan said, not just from players and their supporters visiting the island, but from the word of mouth those players provide as they travel to other destinations.

The US Virgin Islands’ Lisa Dietrich goes for a block on a shot by Cayman’s Stefania Gandolfi as Jessica Wolfenden looks on. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Wolfenden said players are impressed by the Cayman tournament.

“I always hear them comment on how smooth everything is run and how well they’re taken care of,” she said. “Each year it gets better and better.”

Organisers are hoping Cayman teams will do the same.

During men’s play, the team of Casey Santamaria and Jesse Parham placed 10th based on points earned during the first round of play. They lost to Guatemala and the Dominican Republic and received a forfeit win from Costa Rica in their competitions.

Nathan Dack and Richard Campbell failed to win any of their four first-round games and came in 17th in the tournament.

Both men’s teams played teams from the US Virgin Islands Sunday morning as part of NORCECA’s Continental Cup. The Virgin Islands teams won both games.

The other Cayman women’s team in the tournament, Marissa Harrison and Ileann Powery, faced teams from the United States, Canada and Nicaragua in their opening round of play, losing to all three teams.

Powery, a student at the University College of the Cayman Islands, said she was happy with the way she and Harrison, who goes to school in San Diego, California, played.

“Considering me and her don’t train at all [together], I don’t think you can ask for much better,” she said. “We do try our hardest, but we don’t have the chemistry that would be formed if we worked together.”

Just 21, Powery said she will continue to play as long as she can.

“I love representing these islands,” she said.

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