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This country’s senior women’s volleyball team preparations for the hosting of the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA) Fourth Round Qualifiers to the FIVB World Championship, has suffered a major blow with the resignation of Cuban-born head coach, Francisco “Panchee” Cruz. This was revealed in the press release issued by the T&T Volleyball Federation and signed by its president Daymian Stewart on Thursday. It stated: “Volleyball coach Francisco Cruz, who was in the midst of his ninth year as the national coach decided to call it a day citing difficulties with securing training facilities and medical support for the athletes.”
Reached for comment on his decision to vacate his position, Cruz was quick to note that since arriving in T&T to coach the team has been working under very difficult situations with regards to getting facilities available to prepare teams, as well as support for the players when injured as well as having the proper personnel travel with the team inclusive of physiotherapist and doctors. Despite all these problems, Cruz was able to guide the team to four straight Senior Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association (CAZOVA) Championship titles on the trot as well as an improve world ranking of 31st from 93rd, a fourth placed finish at the Central American and Caribbean Games (CAC) and a seventh ranking in NORCECA.
However, Cruz’s main goal was to qualify the team to the FIVB World Championship carded for Italy in September after failing to do so four years ago at the final hurdle. Four years on, and Cruz and the senior women’s team found themselves back in the familiar position of a chance at Italy, with only Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama standing in their way in the five-team round-robin tournament which is expected to take place at the University of the West Indies Sports and Physical Educational Centre, St Augustine from July 16-20. At the end of the five-team round-robin tournament, the top team will join the 23-already qualified teams in Italy. But with the tournament less than two weeks and a chance at history within his grasp, Cruz has decided he will not work under the trying conditions he has had to put up with for most of his coaching career in T&T.
He explained: “For instance our national women’s team recently returned from the Pan American Cup in Mexico, where our setter Renele Forde picked up a serious injury and because we had no medical personnel on our technical staff we had to use the assistance of medical persons from other teams. “Upon our return home I had discussions with officials of the T&T Volleyball Federation and once again explained to them of the many problems we experienced and will continue to experience, but up to the point before I resigned I had not gotten any solutions.
“So I asked myself, how do I continue like this because at the end of the day, its the coach who has to answer when a team performs well or not. In the T&TVF release, Stewart admitted that the issues are real and are the same challenges the federation and the teams faced in the last eight years. “The timing is awful but in discussion with the athletes, we have placed full confidence in the long standing understudy to Cruz, Nicholson Drakes to complete this important journey. “The T&TVF has invested in Drakes’ development and stand strong behind him, preventing a possible destabilising situation. With regards to Cruz, Stewart said he was advised by many to talk to Cruz but he chose not to. Stewart who is in high praise for where Cruz has taken the team over the past four years, said he prefered to have someone with the passion for T&T at the helm at this time. The welfare and mental readiness of the athletes are the priority.
“If my athletes are ok, I am ok. I believe in them. They asked me to bring this event to Trinidad to give them a chance.”
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