Already without the services of regular setter Renele Forde, T&T senior women volleyballers will have to make do with the unavailability of former captain, Romanian-based, Krystle Esdelle for the 15th Senior Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association (Cazova) Championship. The left-handed opposite, who turned 30 on Emancipation Day (Friday last) and also played professionally in Germany and France decided to retire from the national team after almost nine years with the senior squad, paving the way for Afeisha Olton to be drafted into the 12-member squad for the premier Caribbean tournament which serves off tomorrow (Monday August 4) until Sunday August 10 at the Jean Pierre Complex, Mucurapo.

Contacted for comment, recently appointed head coach Nicholson Drakes hailed Esdelle’s impact over the years with the team and noted she would be a hard act to follow. Drakes, who has been part of the team as an assistant to former Cuban-born coach Francisco “Panchee” Cruz’ for eight years said the South-born Esdelle was already expected to miss the tournament as she was expected to undergo surgery for an injured left shoulder. The injury hampered her effectiveness greatly during the just concluded  FIVB Women’s World Championship Final Round qualifiers in which T&T fell to Mexico in the decider with a spot in Italy up for grabs at the University of the West Indies Sports and Physical Educational Centre, St Augustine.
Two years ago in St Croix, US Virgin Islands, Esdelle was voted as the Cazova Championship “Most Valuable Player” after she led T&T to its fifth overall crown and fourth straight, 25-16, 25-19, 25-12 over Barbados.

With regards to the void left by Esdelle and the absence of Forde, who is still some two weeks away from returning to training from her injured leg, Drakes said: “There are one or two players who will have to step up and may be able to do a decent enough job as we know we will have to make a few adjustments. He added, “We have two youngsters in Marisha Herbert and Makila York who I know are eager to get a chance at this level to show their worth while we also have the versatile and experienced Darlene Ramdin as another option in Esdelle’s position. Asked the team’s state of mind after losing out to Mexico with a historic spot in Italy as stake, the T&T coach admitted that not all the players had gotten over the disappointment. “There are a few players who took the loss more than some, but at the same time Cazova is another tournament all by itself and as a team we all have to move forward. We cannot dwell on the past, said Drakes.

Drakes, who will be in charge of the team for the first time at Cazova level will also be eager to improve on T&T’s record of finishing second at home in 2002 after losing to Barbados in the final, and third in 1993 as well, with Barbados again the winners at the Jean Pierre Complex, The local women dubbed the “Calypso Spikers”, will enter the five-team tournament as the four-time defending champions and five-time winners overall, the first being in 1996 in St Croix under the leadership of deceased Maria Lera. The last four titles won by T&T were claimed under the guidance of Cruz, who resigned last month on the eve of the World qualifiers at UWI SPEC. Also in the mix will be six-time champion Barbados (1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 2000 & 2002), Bahamas, Jamaica and Suriname.

The five teams wil compete  in a round-robin series at the end of which the top two teams will contest the final while the third and four placed teams, battle for bronze. Missing out on the women’s tournament for various reasons are US Virgin Islands (USVI), the beaten finalist on home soil in 2012, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Haiti. Today, the local women’s team will holding a  training session from 6 am to 9 am at the tournament venue ahead of the start of its title defence against rivals Barbados tomorrow from 6 pm. The winner of the women’s competition will qualify to the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (Norceca) Continental Championships next year as well as Pan American Cup events. T&T senior women’s team: Jalicia Ross-Kydd, Channon Thompson, Kelly-Anne Billingy, Sinead Jack, Marisha Herbert, Darlene Ramdin, Rheeza Grant (libero), Courtnee-mae Clifford, Makila York, Aisha Sealy-Morrison, Abby Blackman, Afeisha Olton,

Tournament groups:
Women: T&T, Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Suriname

Today (Sunday August 3rd):
8 am - 11am: Preliminary Inquiry - Cascadia Hotel
6 pm - Welcome reception - Cascadia Hotel
8pm - Technical Meeting - Cascadia Hotel

Women’s Cazova fixtures:
Tomorrow (Monday August 4):
Women: Jamaica vs Suriname, 3 pm
Opening Ceremony, 5pm
Women: T&T vs Barbados, 6pm

Tuesday August 5:
Women: T&T vs Suriname, 8 pm

Wednesday August 6:
Women: Barbados vs Jamaica, 4 pm

Thursday August 7:
Women: Bahamas vs Barbados, 6pm
Women: T&T vs Jamaica, 8pm

Friday August 8:
Women: Barbados vs Jamaica, 2 pm
Women: T&T vs Bahamas, 8pm

Saturday August 9:
Women: Barbados vs Jamaica, 2 pm
Women: Bahamas vs Suriname, 4pm

Sunday August 10:
Women: Third place playoff, 12 noon
Women: Final, 6 pm