WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!!!!! Ray and I have had the most amazing time here on Grand Cayman. Incredible people, amazing activities, a splendid tournament and last but not least a career first for the both of us.
Where do I start?! Well I guess I will start where I left off from the volleyball perspective and explain our progression to the top of the podium.
My last detailed post ended with us facing team Canada #2 of Maverick Hatch and Ben Saxton in the semi finals. This was a match I knew would happen and I was mentally prepared for it before we left Canada. Maverick and Ben are two talented athletes but I was confident Ray and what was necessary to win. It was a hot day and I knew the heat was going to play a large factor and right I was. Unfortunately for me, the night before was a terrible evening of nutrition as there was a mistake with organization and we were the first athletes on the scene to experience it. A Mexican restaurant wanted to help and let the organizers to believe they were serving a buffet style feast. This was not the case when we arrived and I was told we had 2 free tacos and the rest we had to pay for. Mexican food isn't my #1 recovery food and I was only going because it was free so I was NOT pleased. We ate our two tacos and left for another place. Sadly, time went on and the window of optimal recovery time passed before we could replenish what we lost during the day. It is for this reason I felt sluggish and took ages to get feisty and mean in the game!
Nutrition aside, we felt slow in the morning preparing for our match so we went to the beach at 9 (we were scheduled to play at 1) to do an initial serve and pass to shake it off. Sadly that didn't do much for us and our nutrition that day didn't move us too far forward. We slammed a series of electrolyte pills and drinks prior to the game but I was low on fuel prior to the game. Ray felt the same and I knew it was going to be a rough start.
They came out banging. They tagged 7 line aces and we didn't make more the 3 serves the entire match trying to match their pace. They beat us 21-10 but we knew the second set would be a different situation entirely. We entered the second set with a new demeanor and it showed. We were neck and neck for the start of the game but a few heated rallies brought is into the lead. It was hot and we were all starting to fatigue but then, the weirdest thing happened to me! I found my legs. Out of nowhere in the heat of the day, my energy rose as all the electrolytes I had taken in pill and drink form found their targets!!! I began to feel much better right as Maverick began to really fatigue. It was then a mental game and Maverick called a medical timeout with us in the lead late in the second. I forget the score but it we had the energy and our lead was building. We won the second set at 21-18 and off we went to the 3rd set.
Getting more energetic and mentally alert by the second, I was hot but feeling superior to anyone on the beach at that time. Ray was starting to feel the heat but he is a tough redhead and I knew I could count on him for a win. We attacked Maverick again knowing he was struggling and we made a few points here and there. Ray had a great read on him and he hit a few balls out which gave us a comfortable 11-9 or 12-8 switch to the bad side. That is where the magic happened. We went on a tear of blocks and shut out the game with 3 blocks in a row!!! Ray had a pivotal dig to start the blocking streak and they really felt the pressure and heat after that. I would also like to mention that midway through the 3rd set I had one of the most athletic plays of my life. I got a substantial touch on a deep cross court attack and then Ray was able to get a single hand on it but directing it high and deep. The ball arched high into the wind and almost perched mid air for a second before falling to a meter or two from the back banners. I turned to chase the ball and read its trajectory well enough to know I only had one option; a bicycle kick!!! I hustled to the back of the court, dove feet first and kicked the ball 11 meters from the net all the way back over to their side of the court!!! Sadly, Ben hit the ball on two before I could get back into a defensive position but it was certainly an impressive play! This three set thriller unfortunately wasn’t caught on tape. I nearly cried when I saw that my camera ran out of batteries and therefore didn’t record the second and third sets. What a bummer, it would have been an amazing match to summarize with highlights. You will all have to take my word for it!
With a few hours to kill we headed back to the hotel to rest, eat left over pasta and gather our thoughts and concentration for what we knew would be a thriller against entertaining rivals from Puerto Rico! We have a history with them from Mexico last year and we were not going to lose.
The fans were out in full force and I would venture a guess of 1200 people on site to watch the men’s finals. It was the most highly touted match of the tournament and the “favored” Canadians had not disappointed.
Packed house, lively atmosphere and a beautiful location sums up the Cayman Center court. It was pumping with tunes and the MC’s (our friends and the people we had stayed with all week) were deep in beers and talking trash for us. Energy was peaking and Ray and I were ready to harness it and turn it into a killer show.
The finals are a blur and I hope the highlight video helps you relive the experience. We won the first, lost the second and took the third set but Ray was feeling fatigued. How do I know this you may ask? Well lets just say I looked over at Ray in the middle of the second set and he was vomiting seconds prior to receiving a serve. Ray is a trooper and has an amazing ability to regain consciousness and skill after bonking in heat. It has happened to us before so I had confidence in his ability to scrape all resources for a third set.
We were up large in the third due to magnificent defensive plays and Ray was digging up a storm. A timely block by me, a missed serve by them and a great dig by Ray put us in the lead on the good side with a sideout for the championships. I knew Ray was tired so upon judging the pass, I went it hard for a second touch attack. With a set in mind, I brought the blocker in and jump set Ray what was my best jump set ever! With no blocker close to the ball, Ray had line wide open and he capitalized!!!!! WE WON!!!
What an amazing feeling! It was so rewarding being able to win in front of a thousand plus supportive fans (especially for Canadians) and many family members and friends due to the online streaming. We were humble in our winning and so pleased to stand on top of the podium in the first time of our careers!!!
OH CANADA. I sang loud and proud. I always imagined myself upon the podium with my eyes closed, breathing the beach scent in and banking the visual of our flag but it didn’t go like that!! I wanted to sing and together we sang our anthem loud and proud. We popped the champagne sprayed it on our opponents, then shared the bubbly around with Puerto Rico and USA (who beat our Canadian boys in the bronze 19-17 in the 3rd).
It was an amazing experience at one of my favorite places to play beach volleyball in the world. It has all the necessary components for a world class event and it has a community that wants it to succeed more than anything. I truly hope this event grows and I will do whatever I can to assist my new friends in carrying out their dream of increasing its size each year.
A special thanks goes out to Carl and Wanda for hosting us throughout the week and giving us their vehicles to roam about. I truly felt at home and CAN’T WAIT to come back!!!!!!!!