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T&T off to flying start in ‘Worlds’ playoff

By \\\\\ Shammi Kowlessar

TRINIDAD and Tobago made an impressive start to the NORCECA (North, Central America and the Caribbean) Women’s World Championship Playoff Volleyball Tournament Wednesday night at Sport & Physical Education Centre (SPEC) of the University of the West Indies.

The hosts whipped Panama in straight sets in the second game of a double-header after Mexico had dismissed Costa Rica with surprising ease in the opening match of the tournament.

Nicaragua, the other country involved in the round-robin competition, was on a bye and got their campaign going in the second match of last night’s double header against T&T.

There will be two matches on a nightly basis until Sunday night and the team which comes out on top will secure the 24th and final place in the World Championships, which takes place in Italy from September 23-October 12.

As was the case against Panama, the lowest ranked team in the playoff at No. 55 in the world, T&T’s girls were favoured to defeat the 46th-ranked Nicaraguans last night.

But the five-time Caribbean champions will be the slight underdogs when they oppose Costa Rica at eight o’clock tonight, two hours after Nicaragua clash with Panama.

At No. 29 in the world, Costa Rica is ranked two places ahead of T&T, and is the only country in this playoff competition with experience in the World Championships. 

The Central Americans are, in fact, attempting to qualify for the third time in succession.

They turned in a nightmare performance in their 25-14, 25-17, 25-11 defeat at the hands of Mexico, but are expected to show their true colours against T&T tonight.

Still, Nicholson Drakes, who is coaching this country’s girls for the first time after being the assistant to Cuban Francisco Cruz for the last few years, is confident of going all the way.

“We have respect for all the other teams. We have a lot of work to do and we have to take it one game at a time, but we intend to win the tournament.” Drakes said after the victory over Panama.

The T&T girls, who started off the contest by winning the first five points and won the first seven of the third set, prevailed 25-17, 25-16, 25-15 in 85 minutes.

Channon Thompson, who had eight kills and served six aces, led the way with 15 points, while fellow Europe-based 20-year-old Sinead Jack and Jalicia Ross-Kydd chipped in with 11 and ten points, respectively.

Captain Kelly Billingy contributed nine points, the same amount as her opposite number Johanna Arrayo, who top-scored for Panama.

The hosts blocked twice as many shots (12-6) as their opponents and served 13 aces as compared with just one by the Panamanians.

After tonight’s clash with Costa Rica, T&T will rest tomorrow night and then oppose 28th-ranked tournament favourties Mexico in the final match of the competition at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

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