Tuesday, January 16, 2018

So close

Volleyballers miss Worlds spot, coach looks ahead


Effort in vain: Trinidad and Tobago’s Krystle Esdelle, left, skipes a winner past two Mexican blockers during the qualifying match for the Women’s World Volleyball Championships Sunday night at Sport & Physical Education Centre of the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies. Mexico prevailed in straight sets to earn tickets to compete in Italy from September 23-October 12. —Photo: AYANA KINSALE

Mark Fraser

AFTER coming within one match of qualifying for the Women’s World Volleyball Championships, the Trinidad and Tobago coach is already looking to the future.

Mexico captured the 24th and final place in the World Championships when they beat the hosts 25-14, 31-29, 25-17 in the last match of the NORCECA (North, Central America and the Caribbean) Playoff Tournament Sunday night at Sport & Physical Education Centre of the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies.

Both countries had beaten the other three—Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama—in straight sets in the round-robin tournament to set up an exciting “virtual final.”

The players were devastated after they failed to make T&T the smallest country to ever qualify for a World Championship in the sport.

But coach Nicholson Drakes stated: “We have to look forward”, referring to the fact that the Caribbean Volleyball Championships will take place early next month.

T&T are five-time champions of this biennial tournament and will be the overwhelming favourites to capture their fifth title in succession.

Drakes was very proud of his team during the just-completed five-night tournament, but lamented the fact that “the girls did not play at their best against Mexico.”

Mexico, ranked one place above Costa Rica and three ahead of T&T at No. 28 in the world, began the tournament as the favourites, but when skipper and star player Andrea Rangel limped off injured just after the first whistle Sunday night, the odds of a T&T victory shortened significantly.

However the absence of the attacker seemed to inspire her teammates to play better and they ran away with the first set in just 23 minutes.

T&T got off the flyer, but after they won six of the first seven points, the visitors began to claw their way back and the teams were battling neck-and-neck by the middle of the set.

After both teams failed to convert three set points each in the longest and most pulsating set of the tournament, Mexico prevailed 31-29 on their fourth attempt. It was like driving a nail in T&T’s coffin as they never threatened in the third and went down in 25 minutes. Mexico’s Lizbeth Sainz was the game’s leading scorer and had 14 kills in her 16 points. Compatriot Claudia Rios contributed 13 points, one less that T&T’s top scorer Channon Thompson.

Mexico’s Dulce Carranza (11) and T&T’s Krystle Esdelle (ten) were the other player to score in double figures in the 85-minute contest.

The visitors dominated the spiking category 40-25, and also led eight aces to three, but the taller T&T players held a significant edge (11-4) in blocked shots.

Mexican coach Miguel Jorge Azair stated “We won against a very good team.” And Rios noted “every year T&T keep improving, every year their game gets better.”

Costa Rica, the only of the five competing countries with previous World Championship experience, came here attempting to qualify for the third straight time. But the dream was erased after they lost to Mexico and T&T in their first two matches and they eventually ended up third by defeating the 46th-ranked Nicaraguans 24-26, 25-22, 28-26, 25-18 in Sunday’s first match.

Panama, the lowest ranked country in the tournament at No. 55 in the world, lost thir four matches to finish fifth and last.

The World Championships will take place in Italy from September 23-October 12.