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Volleyball women stand tall

T&T will host the second leg of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix, as our senior women’s team makes local volleyball history by being the first English-speaking Caribbean country to qualify
Published: 
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Members of the T&T National Senior Women's Volleyball Team strike a pose. Currently they are in Mexico, competing in the preliminary rounds of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix — a first for them.

Susan Pierre, the team manager for the T&T National Senior Women’s Volleyball Team, shared this in a telephone interview with Guardian Media on Monday, the day before the team was set to depart for Mexico, where they are now competing against teams from Mexico, Australia and Hungary.

Pierre said the women’s volleyball team qualified last year to participate on the international stage and with it gain its first experience of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix.

It’s quite an achievement, and however they perform, the experience will be a valuable one to help our women players prepare for future major international events.

T&T will host the second leg of the Grand Prix competition from July 14-16 at the National Cycling Centre in Balmain, Couva (just north of the Ato Boldon stadium); we will host teams from France, Australia and Cameroon, said Pierre.

“For Grand Prix this year, we qualified in Group Three. There are eight teams in our group. The top four (from Groups 2 and 3) will go forward in a final, and from that, the top two will go on for the final of the Grand Prix,” said Pierre.

The FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix is the International Volleyball Federation’s most prestigious annual showdown in the world of women’s volleyball. The event has grown spectacularly since its first edition in 1993 when it featured just eight teams.

The 25th edition 2017 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix will feature a record number of participants, with 32 countries participating in the premier annual competition for women’s national teams. The event is even bigger and better this year, with a record prize money of US$600,000 for the winners.

This year, Hungary, Venezuela and T&T are making their debut in the FIVB World Grand Prix. T&T is in Group Three, together with Australia, Algeria, Cameroon, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico and Venezuela.

This Friday, in the Grand Prix preliminaries in Mexico, the T&T team plays Hungary; on Saturday it plays Mexico; and on Sunday it plays Australia.

“The women have been preparing with the team’s head coach, Francisco Cruz. The training has been hectic—we train six days a week. And we just came off of Pan American Cup last Monday, from Peru, where we placed ninth, and so have already qualified for the 2018 Grand Prix,” said Pierre.

“The young women are excited, because they love representing their country, and they have been working hard towards this goal for the last ten years. They are excited, and a little frightened, hoping that they can make the grade as they represent the country. They are going to put their best foot forward,” said Pierre.

There are 12 young women currently in the final T&T National Senior Women’s Volleyball Team, who range in age from 17 to 34; most are in their 20s.

Team manager Susan Pierre is employed as a teacher, and most of the young women on the volleyball team work at regular jobs too, so their sport efforts take place entirely during their free time, born of their love for the sport. “Spare time? I don’t have spare time!” joked Pierre, about how busy it has been for her.

In past years, the team had no certain, fixed place to practice at home. But that changed in March of this year when they secured some regular space in the Cycling Velodrome in Couva to hold their training sessions.

What many people may not realise is that this team gets no regular sponsorship, and is virtually entirely self-financing. It is a struggle for them. This is despite the fact that these T&T sports women have been performing very well—they were the Caribbean champions for the past six consecutive competitions. (“We have won it eight times in total,” said Pierre.)

The women sacrifice a lot for their sport, going to work during the day and then heading for training after that; one woman even brings her child with her to training sessions.

Back in 2013, one business in Chaguanas did step up to assist the team with expenses-Caribbean Recreational Initiatives Limited (CRIL) donated US$20,000 to the team in March 2013-and for this, the team was very grateful.

Today, Pierre said, the team needs new uniforms and other gear that will cost an estimated US$10,000, and she is hoping for some sponsorship to help offset expenses.

“I have been with the girls since 2009. I have seen them laugh, I have seen them cry, I have seen them struggle, I’ve seen them play through pain, just because they want to perform for T&T,” said Pierre.

Renele Forde is captain of the T&T National Senior Women’s Volleyball Team. She has been with the team for 11 years, and began playing when she was 14. She commented:

“We’ve been trying to get here, to the Grand Prix, since our coach Francisco Cruz first came ten years ago… Although we have taken part in regional tournaments before, qualifying for this kind of world tournament is huge for us, because it means the team is improving.”

The Preliminary Round of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix takes place over three weeks including July 7-9, July 14-16 and July 21-23. Group 3 Finals are from July 22 to 23, with Group 2 Finals from July 28 to 30, and Group 1 Finals from August 2 to 6.

Only China and Japan have participated in all 24 editions to date.

Brazil is the record title winner, with a total of 18 victories.

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