Channon Thompson led three players in double-digit scoring as T&T senior women’s volleyball team began a new chapter in international play under a new coach in Nicholson Drakes with a 3-1 whipping of Guatemala 25-14, 25-14, 22-25, 25-7 to open their Pan American Games Women’s Qualifying Tournament at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday night.
Following T&T’s debut at the FIVB Women’s World Volleyball Championship In Japan, late last year, the long-serving national coach, Cuban-born Francisco “Panchee” Cruz stepped down to pick up an appointment as an FIVB Development Coach for the Caribbean.
His position with the T&T team was taken up by his former understudy, Drakes, who enjoyed brief stints at the helm of the team in the past making for a smooth transition.
However, the team also travelled to Puerto Rico without key players, in Japan-based Sinead Jack, Renele Forde, Darlene Ramdin, Kelly-Ann Billingy and Jalicia Ross-Kydd all missing for various reasons.
Still in the mix are former captain and Turkey-based Krystle Esdelle who was appointed captain along with crucial fellow spiker and European-based Channon Thompson, Delicia Pierre, Afesha Olton and Latisha Morain, all members of the team which made its historic debut at the FIVB World Championship last year.
And it was the combined attacking force of Thompson, Esdelle and Pierre together with solid defence which led the T&T women to victory in one hour, and 27 minutes.
Thompson ended with a match-high 27 points, which comprised 21 spikes, four blocks and two aces, Esdelle added 20 compiled from 12 spikes, five aces and three blocks while Pierre tallied 11 spikes, four aces and one block in her 16 points performance.
Afiya Alexander also chipped in with seven points highlighted by four blocks while setter Nya Steele and Rachael Noel, scored five and four points respectively for T&T which dominated 48-20 on spikes, 14-2 on blocks, and 17-6 on aces.
However, coach Drakes would not be all to happy with his team’s overall display as the T&T women gifted the Central Americans, more than half of their points, 32 in unforced errors as compared to 18 by the losers who were led by seven points each from Paola Alvarado, and Marina Chavez.
Speaking after the win, Drakes said, “Our team made many mistakes in the third set as we lowered our level of intensity and they (Guatemalans) took advantage of that moment.”
David Aldana, the coach of Guatemala, celebrated winning the third set. “We have our feet on the earth as we were playing against a team that just finished playing in the world championship. Their serves are very strong, and in the third set we were able to establish our reception and won the set.”
In Thursday’s opening match, host country and pre-tournament favourites, Puerto Rico, ranked 13th in the world brushed aside Nicaragua 25-15, 25-12, 25-7.
Yesterday, Puerto Rico faced Guatemala, while T&T played Nicaragua ahead of today’s final round of matches which is expected to feature T&T and Puerto Rico playing for top spot from 3.30 pm, at the end of which only the winner will qualify to 2019 Pan American Games carded for July 26 to August 11 in Lima, Peru.
Simultaneously in San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are contesting the inaugural Women’s Volleyball Caribbean Series, a three-match event between the national teams, and the Dominican Republic won the opener 19-25, 25-19, 25-14, 25-16.
This event will be disputed every year in early January during the break of the foreign leagues where the most important players of both countries play as reinforcements.
The hosting country is going to be alternated which means that in 2020 a Dominican Republic city will welcome both teams.
Thursday's Tournament Results
Puerto Rico bt Nicaragua 25-15, 25-12, 25-7
T&T bt Guatemala 25-14, 25-14, 22-25, 25-7
Caribbean Series Match One
The Dominican Republic bt Puerto Rico 19-25, 25-19, 25-14, 25-16.
Puerto Rico vs T&T, 3.30pm
Guatemala vs Nicaragua, 5.30pm
Caribbean Series Match Three
Puerto Rico vs the Dominican Republic, 8.30 pm