T&T men’s beach volleyball will begin their long journey towards qualification to next year’s Rio Olympics Beach Volleyball Tournament when the T&T Volleyball Federation plays host to the Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association Tournament, a first round qualifying event to the NORCECA Continental Cup. The three-day event serves off  at the National Development Centre, Saith Park, Chaguanas from today until Sunday from 9.30 am daily.

The tournament will feature  28 teams of  two men’s teams each from Aruba, Barbados, Bahamas, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Suriname, Turks & Caicos, US Virgin Islands and host T&T. T&T will be represented by recent ninth placed finishers in the 2015 NORCECA Beach Circuit Tour opener in Cayman Islands, in Fabien Whitfield and Daneil Williams, and its B-team of Tevin Joseph and Josiah Eccles.

Williams and Whitfield had qualified to compete in Cayman Islands without dropping a match or set in the first phase of the T&TVF’s five qualifying tournaments. The pair then played unbeaten in the second phase of qualifiers, four tournaments, as well, between March/April to get the nod for the Pan American Games carded for Canada in July.

The run of nine straight competition wins by the Toco-born duo tied the feat set by women’s pair, Ayana Dyette and Nancy Joseph, achieved between last year and the opening tournament of this season. Eccles and Joseph were runners-up in the local qualifiers to earn the other T&T team spot. Speaking following a training session at the tournament venue, yesterday, national coach David Thomas Jr said his was very confident in the ability of both local men’s teams.

“Our teams have been playing together for a while now just like a few other teams, but we have the added experience of being regular participants on the NORCECA Tour as well as having Whitfield and Williams reached as far as the semifinal stage of the London Olympicqualifiers four years ago”, said Thomas Jr.

However, the local men are not expected to have an easy ride to the finals and a top six finish as other notable line-ups include Bahamians Renaldo Knowles, Mullet Petit, Princtanique Wilson and  Byron Ferguson; Mark Lewis, Donovan Larry Richards, Ryck Mc Kenzie-Webb and  Christopher Walters (Jamaica) and Barbadians Daran Gill, Sheldon Roach, Winston Gittens, Elwyn Oxley.

Due to the late arrival to T&T of most of the teams, the Preliminary Inquiry to be conducted by the Control Committee headed by Tournament Director Arnaldo Sanchez was due to take place on last night at the Cascadia Hotel & Conference Centre, to be followed by the Technical Meeting at the same venue.

The ECVA held it first round qualifiers two weeks ago with St Lucia emerging as champions ahead of  Antigua & Barbuda, St Kitts/Nevis, Dominica, St Vincent and The Grenadines, and Dutch St Marteen. For the tournament, each team will compete under a country versus country format in a best-of-three series with a “Golden Set” up to 15 points or a two-point advantage in case of a tied series.

Daymian Stewart, President of the T&T Volleyball Federation was quick to point out that his federation was very proud to do its part in the development of the sport by hosting one leg of the Olympic qualifiers. However, he also highlighted the fact that it was no coincident that the top three countries at the women’s qualifiers in Jamaica last weekend are the same countries hosting Beach Volleyball events in Jamaica, Cayman Islands and T&T.

He added, “It’s also a momentous occasion for CAZOVA, and it’s the first single event in which all its 14 members will participate.” Stewart also saluted the support of all the sponsors that have come aboard for the event and made special commendation to the T&T Olympic Committee (T&TOC), and its President Brian Lewis for its full support.

Among the sponsors who have come on board to make the tournament a success are KFC, FLOW, Tourism Development Company (TDC), Toyota, Sport Company of T&T (Sportt), Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association (CAZOVA), North, Central American and Caribbean (NORCECA) and the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC) in partnership with the T&T Volleyball Federation.