After a one-year hiatus, the NORCECA Beach Volleyball Tour made a big splash in its return to Grand Cayman for a tenth year 26-28 April.
In a field littered with top-tier talent, Public Beach provided the platform for three days of thrilling volleyball as two of the sports most familiar duos won gold in Sunday’s finale.
Men’s Gold Medal match: Mexico def Cuba 2-0 (21-18, 21-14)
Defending Pan Am gold medalists Juan Virgen and Lombardo Ontiverus of Mexico took to centre court versus Cuba’s Sergio Gonzalez and Luis Reyes in the men’s gold medal match. Having not dropped a set the entire tournament, the Mexicans overpowered a wore down Cuba side who pulled off back-to-back three-set wins in both the quarter and semifinals.
The 6’6 Virgen dominated net play, while Ontiveros seamlessly transitioned from defender to hitter throughout the match en route to their first win of the 2019 NORCECA tour and their second podium in the first two weeks of the season.
“We are glad to be back on the NORCECA Tour and glad that we won,” Virgen told Cayman 27 through an interpreter. Ontiveros added “Cuba is one of the strongest teams in the world. We congratulate their effort, and their strong play on the court. Gladly, things went better for Mexico today.”
Women’s Gold Medal match: CUBA def USA 2-0 (21-18, 21-19)
With both women’s finalists coming into the gold medal match having not lost a set, Cuban star Leila Martinez and partner Maylen Delis Tamayo took on top-seeded Brittany Hochevar and Carly Wopat of the United States.
As Cuba aimed for back-to-back NORCECA golds in the first two stops of 2019, the Americans got ahead early 4-0. The teams would trade two-point leads until Cuba earned game point at 20-17. As the Americans fought off game point twice, Cuba iced their momentum with a time out. They closed out 21-18 on the next point.
In the second set, the Americans opened up a 15-10 lead. Cuba would once again look to halt the momentum with a time out. A back-and-forth tilt would finish with a frenetic rally ending in a Wopat dig outside the reach of Hoechaver for a straight set Cuba win.
“We are a strong team and it wasn’t an easy win,” Tamayo told Cayman 27 through an interpreter. “The opponent was strong, but we recovered from the second set and were happy to have won.”
Martinez added, “We are really happy to be enjoying the weather in Cayman, and all the fans supporting CUBA here. This is our third time here and we enjoyed it.”
Cayman bows out of 2019 Continental Cup
With a chance at advancing to the next round of qualifying for the upcoming Olympics, the Cayman pairings of Richard Campbell and Nathan Dack along with Jesse Parham and Casey Santamaria took to centre court Sunday for the Tokyo 2020 Continental Cup Men’s Cavova Zonal Phase versus the United States Virgin Islands.
However, Campbell and Dack would lose in straight sets to the team of Brian Kwasny and Gabriel Rodriguez, while Parham and Santamaria suffered the same fate in a loss to Marc Lomelli and Austin Pippen.
After Santamaria and Parham gained a forfeit win on the opening day, they finished 10th overall for the tour. The team of Campbell and Dack would tie for 17th overall. Both would lose out during the remainder of pool play.
Mixed results in Pool play for the Cayman Islands
After notching two losses and a win for the Cayman Islands on day one, the team of Jessica Wolfenden and Stefania Gandolfi proved to be most effective of the four home teams, finishing third overall in Pool A. With a 2-0 win in hand over the ISVI, the duo scored a straight-set win over Trinidad & Tobago Saturday (21-8, 21-5). They gained a forfeit win over Guatemala to finish ninth overall. With losses to eventual silver medalists Brittany Hochevar and Carly Wopat of the United States, along with ninth-seeded Canada, Wolfenden said they were pleased with the overall results.
“We played them (TTO) last weekend in Mexico, so having background knowledge is always helpful,” said Wolfenden. “I’m really proud of how we played. We had a tough pool with two really tough matches.”
After two opening day loses, the team of Ileann Powery and Marissa Harrison would lose their third and final game in straight sets to Canada’s Anna Dunn-Suen and Caleigh Cruickshank. They’d finish in a four-way tie for 13th overall.
“I thought we played really well,” said Harrison. “We don’t get to play with each other that often. I thought we communicated well and I’m proud. It was important that we stayed positive and focus on the fundamentals as much, and not get in our heads as much.”