Words by Kristal Roberts
Caribbean athletes are no strangers to the Olympics – just ask Usain Bolt! Jamaica and Trinidad have been participating in the Summer Olympics since 1948, and St. Lucia has taken part in the games since 1996. No doubt about it, the West Indies has had its fair share of appearances in the Olympics as well as victories in such sports as running, swimming, cycling and weightlifting.
When it comes to volleyball, however, the island presence is noticeably absent. Puerto Rico and Cuba are the only two Caribbean nations to have ever qualified for the sport. But that’s not stopping the horde of Caribbean volleyball players who are looking to shake things up at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
Fourteen nations from the Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association (CAZOVA) and the Eastern Caribbean Volleyball Association (ECVA) recently competed in the beach volleyball qualifying rounds, as they vied for coveted spots in the upcoming NORCECA Continental Cup. A NORCECA final qualifier win is the golden ticket to the “big time,” that is, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
For those unfamiliar with CAZOVA, ECVA and NORCECA, here’s a brief overview. CAZOVA is a non-profit organization that represents the national federations of the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Netherland Antilles, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EVCA encompasses the national federations of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Dutch St. Martin, French St. Martin, Grenada, Montserrat, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Kitts and Nevis. Both CAZOVA and ECVA fall under the umbrella of NORCECA – the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation – which handles the Olympic and World Championship zone qualification tournaments.
The St. Lucia women’s team, Dala Noel and Kerin Neptune, blew away their competition at the first ECVA Olympic qualifier in Antigua May 1-3, and remain the only unbeaten team in the women’s game.
“I feel so happy and satisfied,” Kerin Neptune told FIVB.com. “I wouldn’t have done it without the help of my partner and friend [Dala Noel]. We expected to win and we want to thank the president of our federation, Brian Louisy and our coach “Café” Joao Carlos Moraes de Campos.”
The St. Lucia winners, along with the other five teams who made the top six, including Antigua and Barbuda, French St. Martin, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, and Grenada, will compete in the NORCECA Continental Cup.
The St. Lucia men’s team also tasted sweet victory. A statement released on the NORCECA site praised the St. Lucian players for their athleticism. “St. Lucia conquered the event claiming first place and were unbeaten after three intense days of competition; their performance was demanding, showing determination to finish on top, while exhaustion proved to be no limitation to reach their objective.”
In the CAZOVA qualifiers the Jamaican Women’s Beach Volleyball team, consisting of Alicia Malcolm and Sashalee Wallen, took the number one spot. The other countries that will advance are Cayman Islands, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Jamaican men’s beach volleyball team, led by Mark Lewis and Rick Webb, weren’t quite as lucky. They placed second in the Olympic qualifier, losing to Trinidadian players, Daniel Williams and Fabien Whitfield, during a qualifier in Chaguanas, Trinidad & Tobago.
While Webb acknowledges St. Lucia as their toughest competition, he is confident about his team’s future. “We know that St Lucia will be our biggest opponent,” he told the Jamaica Gleaner. “We’re just going to go out there and do what we need to do, and we know that at the end of the day as long as we’re disciplined and I trust my partner, we definitely should win.”
Both teams, along with Curaçao, U.S. Virgin Islands, Barbados and Suriname will move to the NORCECA Cup, for which the dates have yet to be announced. Making it to the Olympics in beach volleyball for any of these Caribbean nations would be a major accomplishment, but actually winning would be a history-making first, as no West Indies nation, including Puerto Rico and Cuba, has ever won.
Winners from the cup qualifier game will advance to a third NORCECA round against top players from Central America, as they work to pave the road to Rio and reach the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.