Volleyball players score high in experience at Pan Am Games

| 26/07/2015
Cayman News Service

(L-R) Ileann Powery and Chante Smith-Johnson

(Cayman Islands Olympic Committee): Ileann Powery and Chante Smith-Johnson experienced many new and exciting things at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. Their very first experience was the main event itself.

“We’ve never been to a big competition like this. Amazing, if I had to describe it in one word,” Powery said. “I can’t believe I saw gymnastics for the first time and it wasn’t on TV!”

Powery and Smith-Johnson, who are both just teenagers, have been playing beach volleyball together for about two years and have never gotten the chance to compete off-island. They said it was a sport they picked up at school a few years ago and never thought they would be here to tell their story.

“I used to play football and then eventually I was introduced to volleyball through school; we got onto the league and then we just advanced to here,” Powery said. “I really don’t know it happened to be honest, I don’t know how I got here. Jesus just gave it to me. I guess it just kind of happened.”

Volleyball isn’t a very popular sport amongst young Caymanians, but has sparked an interest in the duo and they are hoping to share it with everyone at home.

“Well, we definitely need to start the community leagues to get people involved with playing the sport, because that is the only way we can get it to develop and the only way people will know what it’s about,” Smith-Johnson said.

With this new international experience, Smith-Johnson is encouraging others in the community to get involved and believes the sport could eventually become quite popular.

Powery agreed. “People at home aren’t interested in volleyball, especially guys. They tend to think volleyball isn’t a very masculine sport; that’s why many young men don’t play it.

“I don’t know if we will influence [men] as much, but I really hope we do. I hope people see this as a bigger opportunity to play volleyball and not just a feminine sport; it’s for everyone.”

New to the beach volleyball scene and no more than a few days at the Pan Am Games, they took to the sand facing their first challenge – competing against the host country, Canada.

“In that game….ahh, we learnt…well, patience is a virtue,” sighed Smith-Johnson.

“We just have to learn to be patient. I mean I know that, but it’s a just a mental thing,” Powery said. “You’re not going to get good in a day! [Canada] had to practise a lot and do many different things to get to the level they are now.”

Although dealing with defeats against Canada, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua, Powery and Smith-Johnson remained enthusiastic, exclaiming, “We want more volleyball!”

“We want to be able to travel more, to represent Cayman more and to experience more,” Smith-Johnson said. “Now that we’ve been at the Pan Am Games, we now know what it is like to be at big games and we won’t get too uncomfortable now, knowing what they come with.”

They may face their biggest challenge yet when Smith-Johnson starts Barry University in Florida this fall, leaving Powery behind.

“I don’t know what I will do when she is away. I just hope I can find someone to play with, because I can’t just be here by myself while she is off getting better!” Powery laughed.

Having just competed in front of millions, Smith-Johnson said when she thinks about leaving her friends and family behind she gets very anxious.

“I know it is a stepping-stone to life, but it still makes me nervous,” she said. “I’m also working on being able to play volleyball at Barry. They want me to come up for pre-season to try out. Fingers crossed, I really hope I make the team and I’m able to play for them.”

Powery, who has one year left at UCCI, said she doesn’t think she is ready or as eager as Smith-Johnson to move to a new country yet.

“I think this trip helped me realise that being away from home is not as hard as I thought. This is actually my first time being away for this long, so I may just get the feeling to go away to school soon, without feeling so nervous.”

Despite not winning a game at the Pan Am Games, the two players will head home with their heads held high, waiting and wanting much more international games to come their way.


Category: Sports, Volleyball

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