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Calypso Spikers battle Bajans in Norceca opener
T&T’s “Calypso Spikers,” the four-time reigning Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association (Cazova) team, will be keen on making a positive start when it meets Barbados in the opening match of their Group I Second Round Norceca qualifiers to next year’s FIVB Women’s World Championship in Italy, today. First serve in the match, which takes place at the University of the West Indies Sports and Physical Educational Centre (UWI Spec), St Augustine, is 9 am, while the two other teams in the group, Anguilla and Honduras, meet at 11 am.
In today’s afternoon session, the Norceca 22nd-ranked Anguilla and 13th-rated Barbados will take to the courts first from 5 pm, while seventh-ranked T&T and 18th-ranked Honduras close out the first day of competition from 7 pm. Tomorrow, the local women’s team led by Krystle Esdelle, the Most Valuable Player at last year’s Cazova Championship which was won by T&T in straight sets over Barbados in St Croix, US Virgin Islands, will meet Anguilla at 9 am followed by the Bajans and Honduras. At the end of the round-robin series, the top two teams will advance to the Third Round of qualifiers for Italy and will also contest the Group I gold medal match from 8 pm on Sunday night.
Prior to the final, the two other teams in the group will play for third spot, with the winner still in with a chance to qualify for Italy.
But, it will only do so as the best third-placed team of all the six Second Round qualifying groups based on their Norceca ranking on January 1, 2014. In this qualifying group, host T&T, which is unbeaten against all Caribbean rivals and other teams outside the top nine in Norceca for the past six years, will start as favourites to qualify as the top team based on its impeccable record in recent years. Barbados will also fancy its chances of joining the “Calypso Spikers” as Third Round qualifiers ahead of the little known Anguillans and Central Americans, Honduras. Speaking on the eve of the tournament, Cuban-born Francisco Cruz, coach of the T&T squad, said his team enters the tournament with only one option—to win. “We want to get to the Third Round and I hope we don’t have any problems in doing so. We know it’s not going to be easy, but the girls have worked very hard and I expect good results,” said Cruz. Five years ago, the national women’s team under Cruz came close to qualifying for the World Championship in Tokyo, Japan, falling at the final hurdle.
T&T began by topping its Second Round qualifying Group C series, involving Netherlands Antilles, US Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Suriname and Aruba to qualify for the Third Round, where they were second to host Cuba, to reach the four-team play-offs among second-placed teams from which two qualified for the World Championship. However, needing to win two of the three matches, T&T ended bottom of the four-team pool without the victory which involved eventual qualifiers Canada and Costa Rica, while Mexico was third. Since then, the local women’s team has improved drastically with a host of players gaining overseas contracts and scholarships, something which has given Esdelle, one of the six survivors from the 2009 squad, the great belief that the team can go all the way and qualify. She said, “This is the first time since 2009 we will be playing as a national team in front our home crowd and we are all focused on achieving our target which is getting to the next round of qualification towards the World Championships in Italy.”
Veteran player Kelly-Ann Billingy, another survivor from the 2009 squad, said, “I think because we were so close in qualifying for the World Championships the first time around, the girls are all pushing harder.” Andrew Brathwaite, coach of the Barbados team, pointed out his team is currently in a rebuilding stage and tournaments like these would provide his coaching staff a chance to determine where they were in terms of overall development. “At the same time, we are still aiming at qualifying out of the group as we intend to play hard.” His team’s build-up to the qualifiers has not gone all that smooth, as captain Thonya James suffered an injury which forced her out of the team, while the overseas-based trio of Anicia Woods, Shari Matthews and Dianne Smith only joined the team a few days ago and did not have much time to train with the squad. Last year, in its first-round qualifying Group A series held in Suriname, T&T, led by captain and eventual Most Valuable Player of the tournament, Poland-based Krystle Esdelle powered past Guadeloupe 25-6, 25-14, 25-13 to claim the gold medal in Paramaribo. T&T women’s volleyball squad: Krystle Esdelle (captain), Darlene Ramdin, Sinead Jack, Channon Thompson, Samantha Prescott, Renele Forde, Andrea Kinsale, Kelly-Ann Billingy, Rechez Lindsay, Courtnee-mae Clifford, Abby Blackman and Abigail Gloud.
Technical staff: Francisco Cruz (coach), Nicholson Drakes (assistant coach), Essel Seecheran (assistant coach/statistician), Idalmis Gato Moya (assistant coach), Susan Pierre (manager)
Group I Schedule
T&T vs Barbados, 9 am
Honduras vs Anguilla, 11 am
Anguilla vs Barbados, 5 pm
T&T vs Honduras, 7 pm
T&T vs Anguilla, 9 am
Honduras vs Barbados, 11 am
Third place match, 6 pm
Final, 8 pm.