David Thomas Jr, coach of the national men and women beach volleyball teams says he sees no reason why the men’s quartet of Daneil Williams, Fabien Whitfield, Christian Francois and Simon Blake should not win gold when the second phase of the Caribbean Zonal Beach Volleyball Tournament, a qualifier to the NORCECA Continental Cup takes place in Antigua from Friday.
Williams and Whitfield will be the top ranked T&T pair and are coming off a very impressive 2015 NORCECA Beach Volleyball Circuit with two bronze medal finishes while Francois and Blake will be making their debut in the qualifiers, in the absence of Abraham Eccles and Tevin Joseph, who were part of the first round triumphant team on home soil last May.
Back then, Williams and Whitfield won a “Golden Set” decider against Jamaica’s top pair of veteran Mark Lewis and Ryck McKenzie 15-12 for a 2-1 victory and first place. Earlier on, William and Whitfield swept aside Donovan Richards and Christopher Walters 2-0 (21-10, 21-15) for a 1-0 lead. Lewis/Mc Kenzie (Jamaica-A) silenced Abraham Eccles and Tevin Joseph (TTO-B), 21-15, 21-13 to level the tie at 1-1.
Once again, it was left up to Williams and Whitfield, regular participants on the NORCECA Tour, to come up big for the host and they did not disappoint, by earning a “Golden Set” victory. T&T and Jamaica were joined in the second round of qualifiers by third placed Curacao, US Virgin Islands, Barbados and Suriname from CAZOVA.
Already qualified to the second round of qualifiers were the top six teams from the Eastern Caribbean Volleyball Association (ECVA), in champions St Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda, St Kitts/Nevis, Dominica, St Vincent and The Grenadines, and Dutch St. Marteen. At the end of the three-day tournament the top six teams will advance to a third round against the top Central American nations.
“We have some minor stuff to get sorted out, but once the guys take to the court I don’t expect us to face much trouble’” said Thomas.
“We will not be taking any team for granted, but the guys are very focussed on the task at home.
Commenting on the change in the second team with Blake and Francois coming into the fold, Thomas Jr said initially it was expected to be Francois and Kevin Rivers who were second to Williams and Whitfield in the local qualifying competitions. “Rivers then became unavailable and after the other teams in order of their placings could not get their self in order in sufficient time, a decision was taken to bring in the very experienced Blake.
“He (Blake) is the reigning Senior CAZOVA Indoor Championship “Most Valuable Player” after leading T&T to the title on home soil last year and is no stranger to playing beach volleyball as well, even with Francois, so I don’t see them having much of a problem.
Also leaving on Thursday for Antigua is the women’s team of Ayanna Dyette and Malika Davidson, and Afiya Glasgow and La Teisha Joseph.
Thomas Jr explained the women’s team, which placed third in Round One will be heading off to Antigua to continue training before heading over to Jamaica for their second round Olympic qualifiers which begins on January 29 and will also comprise 12 teams, six from CAZOVA and ECVA each.