Mexico and Cuba win NORCECA titles

The chants of “Cuba! Cuba!” seemed to help lift that nation’s women’s volleyball team to victory Sunday afternoon in the finals of the NORCECA Beach Volleyball Tour’s Cayman tournament, but it was not enough to spur the men’s team to a similar win.

A contingent of Cubans sat in the south bleachers cheering on their countrymen. It was just part of the high level of energy in the capacity crowd during the gold medal games that topped three days of play by 36 teams from 15 countries. During the Cuba-Mexico men’s match-up, there were also cries of “Mexico! Mexico!” from other sections of the stands.

The Cuban team of Leila Consuelo Martinez Ortega and Mailen Deliz Tamayo overcame Brittany Hochevar and Carly Wopat of the United States, beating them in two straight games, 21-18 and 21-19. The US team lead the Cubans for much of the second game before Martinez Ortega and Deliz Tamayo battled back, tying the game at 19 before going on to win it.

Their countrymen Sergio Reynaldo Gonzalez Bayard and Luis Enrique Reyes Rodriguez, however, could not hold off the Mexican team of Lombardo Ontiveros and Juan Virgen, who beat them handily in both games – 21-18 and 21-14 – by dominating the net.

Kennedy McGowan, president of the Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation, called the tournament a success.

“The quality of the play was excellent,” McGowan said. “There were some very exciting, nail-biting games, both male and female. It’s world-class volleyball.”

McGowan estimated that the event drew about 2,000 spectators over its three-day run.

“We had a great response from the public,” he said.

The Cayman federation decided not to hold the tournament last year in order to pump more money into its development programme. McGowan said he expects that to be a one-time thing.

“Next year, we’ll definitely be planning the NORCECA event again, because it’s one of the most, if not the most, popular stop on the tour,” he said. “We’re able to host this right on the beach. The players really like that. They can just go and jump in after their games and cool off.”

Mexico’s Ontiveros said he has been to Grand Cayman twice before.

“It’s totally beautiful,” he said of the island.

In their championship match-up against the Cuban team, Ontiveros said he and Virgen concentrated on their net game, which they determined as a weakness of the Cubans. “Our coach prepared us tactically for that,” he said. “Sometimes the [game] strategy is set and doesn’t work, but today it worked.”

Ontiveros, in particular, exercised finesse at the net, repeatedly evading the towering presence of Gonzalez Bayard by sending strikes under and around his blocks. He only got better at it as the match went on. While the first game was competitive, the Cubans never got close during the second.

The win was particularly gratifying, Ontiveros said, as this was only the second tournament Virgen has played in following surgery on his ACL eight months ago.

“What better way to do it than on the podium?” Ontiveros said.

For the Cuban women, defence was the key in winning two close games against the American team. Martinez Ortega said she and Deliz Tamayo are working towards qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games.

Sunday’s win, Martinez Ortega said, “is very important for us because we’re in the process of preparing for the Pan American Games,” which begin July 26 in Lima, Peru. “So, we go into the Pan American Games feeling good.”

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