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T&T v-ballers hunt winning CAZOVA start
This country’s women and men teams will both be keen to make winning starts when the 15th Senior Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association (CAZOVA) Championship serves off at the Jean Pierre Complex, Mucurapo, from today until Sunday.
The one-week tournament, hosted by the T&T Volleyball Federation for the third time, with 1993 and 2002 being the previous years, feature five women and six men's teams.
In the Women’s Division, T&T Calypso Spikers, the four-time reigning defending champion and five-time winners overall (1996, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012) do battle with six-time champions Barbados (1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2002) from 6 pm.
However, while the host are the overwhelming favourites it’s the Barbadians who have sweet memory of playing in T&T, having won the title the previous two times it was played here, including beating T&T in the 2003 decider.
But the Kelly-Anne Billingy skippered T&T women have beaten Barbados in all their meetings since, the last of which was the 2012 final held in St Croix, US Virgin Islands and twice in the World Championship qualifiers last year at the University of the West Indies Sports and Physical Educational Centre, St Augustine.
For the victories and almost all since the loss in the 2003 final to the Barbadians, three key components of the T&T “Calypso Spikers” team were Cuban-born coach, Francisco “Panchee” Cruz, setter Renele Forde and opposite Krystle Esdelle.
Unfortunately, for T&T, Cruz resigned almost two months ago, Forde is still on the mend from an injured leg and Esdelle, who is due for surgery on her injured left shoulder decided to retire from the international game at the conclusion of last month’s Final Round FIVB World Championship Qualifiers at UWI SPEC.
Esdelle, who represented the senior team for close to a decade was voted as the “Most Valuable Player” of the tournament at the last CAZOVA Championship held in USVI and was always among the award recipients during her playing career.
Despite the recent changes, recently appointed T&T coach Nicholson Drakes who has been handed the task of drawing T&T women level with Barbados on six titles apiece.
Speaking following his team’s training session at the tournament venue yesterday, Drakes said even though his team playing at home will be clear favourites for a fifth straight title they don’t intend to take any of the teams lightly.
“We consider all the teams as serious contenders and we just have to take it match by match and get the job done as professional as we can be.
One source of concern for the former national women’s assistant coach to Cruz was his team concentration level at this point, coming off the disappointment of losing to Mexico in the World Qualifiers with a spot in Italy up for grabs last month.
“Some of the girls took the loss very badly as it was a last chance for them reach that level of competition given their age, but we have to regroup now and focus on this event because none of the teams will be coming easy at us.”
Billingy said she was not sure if this her last tournament at the CAZOVA level but that the team was focus on retaining the title even with all the changes as it makes it possible for opportunities at the Pan American and NORCECA levels.
The Barbadian team is a vastly experienced bunch with the experienced one inclusive of Anici Wood and captain Thonya Joseph under the supervision of coach Andrew Brathwaite, and like T&T also have ambitions of adding to their regional triumphs.
Speaking on the eve of the tournament, Brathwaite who was also in charge of the team which ended second to T&T in USVI two years ago warned that the team assembled is the best possible by his technical staff and he is hoping that they can perform to the best of their ability and make it three in a row on T&T soil.
In today’s first women’s match, Jamaica and Suriname, two teams with good blend of youth and experience will have the chance to make the first statement of the tournament when they meet from 3pm followed by the opening ceremony at 5pm.
Bahamas is the fifth women’s team involved, but will play its first game on Wednesday against the Jamaicans.
At the end of the round-robin series on Saturday, the top two teams will contest the final while the third and four placed teams, battle for bronze, both on Sunday.
Absent from the tournament are Virgin Islands (USVI), the beaten finalist on home soil in 2012, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Haiti.
Women: T&T, Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Suriname
Group A: Bahamas, Curacao, Jamaica
Group B: Barbados, Suriname, T&T
Women: Jamaica vs Suriname, 3 pm
Opening Ceremony, 5 pm
Women: T&T vs Barbados, 6 pm
Men: T&T vs Suriname, 8 pm
Tuesday August 5:
Men: Curacao vs Bahamas, 4 pm
Men: Suriname vs Barbados, 6pm
Women: T&T vs Suriname, 8 pm