By DEAN GREENAWAY
For Women’s Volleyball team Captain Henrietta “Henrie” Alexander, it was her sweetest moment as a national team player, after years of futility playing in the Eastern Caribbean Volleyball Association Championships held in St. Maarten, Wednesday through Sunday.
“This was my fourth time playing with the national team, but my first time actually winning a game and medaling,” Alexander said on Monday’s team return, where the BVI, overcome their No 9 seed, claimed a silver medal on Sunday night after falling to defending champions St. Lucia—their first time in the tournament since 2014. “This tournament meant a lot to me because I know where we came from. Some of the younger ones—they don’t know what that feels like. Lauren (Welsh), Sharonda (Pickering), Tasha (Amadonna Creese), we know. Tami (Tamesha Georges), Sabi (Sabinah Clement) we know. I’m extremely proud of these young ladies, because many counted us out before we even began. To get to the medal stand after 19 years, is definitely an achievement for volleyball in the territory. Every member of the team was instrumental in our success.”
It was the BVI’s first medal since they won it all in 2003 after winning silver and bronze medals in the preceding years. Alexander, the second highest scorer on the team with 34 kills, eight blocks and eight service points for a combined score of 50 points, encouraged her younger teammates in particular to ‘keep pushing.’ “We did not end up with what we expected, however, it’s just a stepping stone to improve,” she said during an airport press conference welcoming the team home. “It’s only up from here.”
The BVI opened tournament play against perennial champs and top seeded St. Lucia, who walked off with an 18-25, 17-25, and 18-25 triumph on Wednesday. They closed play on Sunday night against St. Lucia, 17-25, 10-25 and 13-25 as their opponent who they last beat in 2003 in Antigua and Barbuda when the BVI did not lose a set, snatched the gold and they settled for silver.
Following their opening loss, the BVI rebounded and overpowered eventual bronze medalists Antigua and Barbuda during a 2 hours and 26 minutes five-set thriller, 23-25, 28-25, 16-25, 28-26and 15-13. Next, they took down St. Eustatius in straight sets, 25-17, 25-19 and 25-14 and followed suit against Grenada, 25-23, 25-15 and 25-15 to qualify for the semis, where they outlasted hosts St. Maarten, 25-15, 25-19, 17-25 and 25-23.
“There was a lot riding on our backs and even before we left here, we all knew that we were ranked ninth in the region and having been away from so long since 2014, but we buckled down, we dug in and only one team beat us—only one team,” head Coach Stephen Payne noted during a press briefing on their arrival yesterday. “It was the team that was ranked first in the tournament and we beat everybody else. We don’t have to hang our heads and walk in shame. We just have to walk high, be proud of our accomplishments and just build on it. The team played well.”
Payne said they knew St. Lucia was the team to beat and prepared with that in mind but the team was a bit hesitant in the first game. He said after the first game, they saw that St. Lucia wasn’t too far away from their abilities. “We fought and they eventually beat us,” he noted. “In the last game, the game was won by St. Lucia, because they had a desire to win. We had a desire as well, but we had metal blockages at certain points and the game went away from us.
He credited St. Lucia, who he noted had good serving, served consistently and used “volleyball tactics” and it worked in their favor.
“But at the end of it, my girls performed—they played well through all the games before that (final). The outcome wasn’t what we wanted to see, but at the end of it all, our girls performed throughout the entire tournament.”
For the future, Payne said the team needs to have “tough mental preparation.”
Pickering—who played for Florida Gulf Coast University and one year professionally in Hungary before the pandemic cut short her pro career—celebrated her 26th birthday on Sunday by winning the EVCA Most Points Scored combined from her 54 kills, 21 blocks and 13 service points. She tied for Best Blocker with 21.
“The last time I played on the national team, I was very timid, very nervous, I was really new to volleyball,” Pickering recalled on Monday. “A lot of things I’ve done in this tournament, I didn’t have the opportunity to do, I didn’t have the skills to do, so coming back, I was happy to make a bigger impact.”