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Italy within sight as Calypso Spikers face Mexico tonight
T&T’s “Calypso Spikers” will be confident of realising their dream of competing at an FIVB Women’s World Championship when they come up against Mexico in a winner-take-all North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA) Women’s Playoff final at the University of the West Indies Sports and Physical Educational Centre, St Augustine from 6 o’clock this evening. Setter Kelly-Anne Billingy led local women, ranked 31st in the world, to overcome Costa Rica 25–22, 25–15, 25–21 in their penultimate match of the five-team tournament at the same venue on Friday night to improve to 3–0, while Nicaragua defeated Panama 25–16, 24–26, 25–10, 25–19 for its first win.
The Mexicans were also unbeaten with a 2–0 record going into their encounter with Nicaragua last night ahead of today’s highly anticipated meeting with host T&T, which they last played at the Pan American in May, losing in five sets. T&T women won the first two sets, 25–18, 25–21, but then imploded the next three sets, 15–20, 20–25, 8–15, however, coach Nicholson Drakes will be hoping his team continue their winning trend. The last time T&T defeated Mexico was last year at the Pan American Cup in Peru. Leading the way for T&T, the five-time reigning Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association (CAZOVA) champions on Friday night, was Romania-based Krystle Esdelle with 15 points, punctuated by 14 kills while the in-form France-based Channon Thompson added 14, inclusive of ten kills and four blocks.
Middle-blocker, Sinead Jack, who plies her trade in Russia, had another impressive outing with nine points, highlighted by four blocks while Darlene Ramdin, who also plays professionally in France added eight. The duo of Jalicia Ross-Kydd and Kelly-Anne Billingy chipped in with six points each for T&T which dominated in all key aspects of the 83 minutes contest, 37–22 on kills, 12–7 on blocks and 9–6 on service ace. For the Costa Ricans who fell to a 1–2 record after losing to Mexico as well and will miss out on the World Championship after two straight appearances, captain Angela Willis and Paola Ramirez tallied nine points each. Verania Willis got seven and the pair of Mijal Hines and Daniela Vargas, three each.
Speaking after the win, a very focused Billingy, a 14-year veteran of the team and one of eight players who were part of the 2009 squad which missed out on the World event in Japan due to a cellar-placed finish in the playoffs, admitted it was one of her team’s best displays in a while. “I think this was probably one of the better games we have played in a very long time as a team and only the second time we have beaten Costa Rica in straight sets. Coach Drakes added: “We are moving forward to Sunday (against Mexico) very confident. As I said before, I believe my team could win this tournament, but we need to be focused, we need to concentrate more and believe more.” Costa Rican coach Horacio Bastit said: “T&T took advantage of the strength they have at the net.” Unfortunately the objective that we had to qualify for the World Championship is gone. We have to keep our heads up and finish this tournament.”