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Blake, Francois fire T&T beach vballers to Olympic qualifying final
The second ranked pair of Simon Blake and Christian Francois came up trumps for pre-tournament favourites, T&T as they won both their matches against Curacao to secure a 3-1 semifinal triumph in the Second Round of NORCECA Continental Cup qualifiers to this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games Beach Volleyball Tournament at Castaways Beach, Jolly Harbour, Antigua, yesterday
When the 12-team tournament comprising the six top teams each from the first round of qualifiers in the Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association (CAZOVA) and the Eastern Caribbean Volleyball Association (ECVA) served off on Friday, top ranked T&T pair Fabien Whitfield and Daneil Williams won both their matches and a fifth and deciding “Golden Set” over Barbados to secure a 3-2 quarterfinal victory.
However, yesterday, Blake and Francois came to the party with two crucial victories as Whitfield and Williams enjoyed a mix day of fortunes.
The Toco-born pair of Whitfield and Williams got their team off to another winning via their 21-18, 23-21 defeat of a stubborn Henrich Daal and Giandro Tokaay (Curacao-B), 21-18, 23-21 while Blake and Francois (TT-B) came from behind to beat Darwin Colina and Norandy Bonafasia (Curacao-A), 12-21, 21-19, 15-7 for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five-match series and within a win of a spot in today’s final against US Virgin Islands with first serve from 1.40 pm.
However, against the odds, Colina and Bonafasia (Curacao-A) stunned a Whitfield and Williams 21-16, 21-18 to hand the T&T pair, their first loss in qualification dating back to the first round on home soil last May.
But any chance of the match going to a “Golden Set” was halted by the energetic pairing of Blake and Francois who made up for their first day shabby display by powering past Daal and Tokaay 21-15, 21-15 Under blistering sunshine to seal a 3-1 victory.
Commenting on the win, Francois said coming off a poor showing in their first match as a team he along with his playing partner (Blake) had to step up their game. “We knew we did not play to our true potential against Barbados, but today we had much better communication and played a lot better.”
Blake added, “On Friday we had a miserable day and did not pull our weight as part of the T&T team. But today we showed what we are capable off a pair and even though we were playing only our second match as a pair in a long while, we looked much improved from our first match.
“We knew we could not let our team-mates down again, and fortunately we did not because today (yesterday) they did not enjoy one of their best days and we were able to pull it through with out two wins to get to the final,” said Blake, the reigning Senior Caribbean Indoor Volleyball Championship “Most Valuable Player” awardee.
Jamaica also started well against USVI with its pair of veteran Mark Lewis and Ryck Webb (Jamaica-A) rallying past Brian Kwasny/Dillon Lusniak (USVI-B) 21-16, 11-21, 15-10 for a 1-0 advantage.
But that was the last bit of enjoyment for the “Reggae Spikers” as Jake Die Trich and Marc Lomeli (USVI-A) won in three sets over Triston Hitchman and Christopher Walters (Jamaica-B), 16-21, 21-10, 15-7 to even the match at 1-1 before Die Trich and Lomeli humbled Lewis and Webb 21-12, 21-17, and Kwasny and Lusniak closed out the match thanks to their defeat of Hitchman and Walters, 21-13, 21-13.
Despite the losing their main draw semifinals, Curacao and Jamaica were already assured of qualifying among the top eight teams to the Third Round of NORCECA qualifiers along with both finalists.
And they were joined by the quartet of Barbados, St Kitts/Nevis, Suriname and St Lucia which all won their Losers Draw round-of-16 matches against Dutch St Maarten (3-0), Antigua & Barbuda (3-0), St Vincent and The Grenadines (3-2) and Dominica (3-0) respectively.
In the quarterfinal round of the Losers Draw, St Lucia beat Suriname 3-1 to set up a semifinal with Curacao while Barbados blanked St Kitts/Nevis 3-0 and will face Jamaica in the other Losers Draw semifinal for a place in the bronze medal match.
St Kitts/Nevis and Suriname will meet for seventh spot while the losers of the Barbados/Jamaica and St Lucia/Curacao matches meet for fifth.