Volleyballers take positives from NORCECA experience

Marissa Harrison gets up for spike while Stefania Gandolfi looks on.

Though they didn’t finish among the top teams, even being relegated to courts away from the big crowds on the final day when the stars occupied the main court, the players who represented the Cayman Islands at the 21-23 April NORCECA beach volleyball tour stop in Grand Cayman are looking toward the future with optimism.

The team of Taylor Burrowes and Illean Powery had the best showing, finishing eighth in the women’s standings, while Marissa Harrison and Stefania Gandolfi were 10th. First-timers Casey Santamaria and David Wood were winless as they came up against teams with vastly more experience.

Burrowes and Powery advanced to the quarterfinals after finishing second in Pool A behind eventual tournament winners Lidiannis Echeverria and Leila Martinez of Cuba. On the opening day, the comfortably beat a Trinidad and Tobago team 2-0 (21-14, 21-18). They then lost to last year’s champions Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen of the USA in the quarterfinals.


“Every year, it’s a new experience and the way I look at it is – you come out and take what you can get from it,” said Powery, who teamed with Burrowes for the first time. “Competition gets better and better each year. In life, you take things and make the best of it.”

She said although they trained as partners, it was a different ballgame when going up against some of the top players in the hemisphere. “It took a while for us to get that connection but in this last game, we had a good connection after we had a talk and we pushed ourselves and showed what we’re made of,” Powery said. “In each game, we got better and that’s all that really matters.”

Harrison and Gandolfi also picked up a win on the opening day, defeating their Costa Rican opponents 2-0 (21-17, 25-23) and finished third of four teams in Pool D.

Gandolfi, 32, who was paired with 15-year-old Harrison said she enjoyed the challenge of playing in the tournament. “It was kind of hard because we play the same position and we’re kind of the same player but it was a great experience,” she said.

Harrison, who attends school in California and travelled to Cayman to represent the country at the tournament for the second straight year was upbeat at the end. “It was awesome. I think me and Stef, we got along really well. We stayed positive even through the tough games,” she told CaymanSportsBuzz.com.

Gandolfi was impressed with her teammate, describing her as a calming presence on the court and having a bright future ahead of her. “I love her. She’s so calm. The door is opened for her because she has a long time ahead of her in the sport.”

It was a tough weekend for the men’s team, who only started training together as a team a couple of months before the tournament. Despite the results, Santamaria was glad he got the chance to represent the Cayman Islands.

“It was a good experience. I definitely enjoyed playing. Even though it was our first competition, it was a lot more difficult than I thought. It’s definitely something I want to do again.”

Having assessed the top players first-hand, he has gotten a glimpse of what it will take to excel against the best.  “We’re going to have to play a lot more regularly instead of just part time and on the weekends when we get time off work. That’s what it’s going to take to compete against these guys,” he said in an interview with CaymanSportsBuzz.com at the end of the tournament.

Cubans Karell Peña and Daisel Quesada won the men’s tournament and like their female counterparts, it was their second straight gold medal on tour this season.

Meantime, Powery expressed gratitude for the fans who came out to show their support for the local players, including relatives who were always vocal in their backing of her.

“I hear my family the most. I really appreciate everybody that came out and supported us. Every bit of it counts. I hear everything, even if it doesn’t look as though we’re hearing, I’m hearing it. So, we appreciate it, guys,” she said.


It is not yet clear if local teams will get another opportunity to play on the NORCECA circuit this year but they will begin preparations to represent the Cayman Islands at the Natwest Island Games in Gotland, Sweden. Gandolfi and regular partner, Jessica Wolfenden, won gold at the last games.

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