The senior women's volleyball trio of Courtnee-Mae Clifford, Rheeza Grant and Shurvette Beckles, all of the star-studded, University of T&T team left here yesterday to begin professional contracts in Baku, Azerbaijan.The trio dubbed the "Three Musketeers" have all be signed by Lokomotiv Baku, which campaigns in the Azerbaijan Women's Super League.The club is out to improve on last year's runner-up finish, its best ever and is also involved in the Women's Challenge Cup where it will resume play later this month.
The 21-year-old Clifford who plays the Libero position (defensive position) has been a member of the national team since making her junior debut in 2006 and has picked up no fewer than eight individual awards at international tournaments, including the Most Valuable Player accolade at the 2009 World Championship Qualifying Group C Tournament. Grant, 25, who plays three positions (opposite/outside hitter/receiver) has been part of the national set up also since 2006 and was voted the Best Receiver and Best Setter in helping T&T to a fourth title at last year's Caribbean Championships in Suriname.
The 21-year-old Beckles nicknamed "Vetty" is a newcomer to the senior women's team having started out at UTT in 2007 after getting her first taste for the sport through the Ministry of Sports Youth Programme.The signing of overseas contracts by Clifford, Grant and Beckles, now takes the tally of national women's players plying their trade in Europe to seven.Already overseas on pro contracts are fellow senior women team players in captain Krystle Esdelle (Schweriner SC - Germany), Kell-Ann Billingy (UGSE Nantes Volley - France) and Poland-based duo, 17-year-olds Sinead Jack and Channon Thompson, both attached to AZS Bialystok.
All athletes are expected to return to T&T in May 2012 to pick up national duties for the next international season.According to senior women's team manager, Susan Pierre the players have managed to acquire the lucrative contracts, due to the efforts of their sometimes very demanding coach, Francisco Panchee Cruz who is fully dedicated to his job and the team which he leads as father, friend, and sometimes foe to get the desired result.The Cuban-born Cruz has proven himself to be a great coach and has done the sport of volleyball yeoman service in five short years.He has had to work in less than normal international standards for a national team, but he persevered and the hard work is paying off, by the recognition and opportunities being presented to his charges.