With the ink still fresh in the sporting history annals, Barbados TODAY turned its focus to volleyball and two young men who were instrumental in the country’s record title defence of the 10th Annual CAZOVA Junior Championships just recently hosted in Barbados.
The young men put on an unbeaten performance despite an early injury to their captain and eventually even the tournament MVP emerged from the squad.
Captain Andriy Stapleton looks every part the athlete and more so the volleyballer. The CAZOVA Junior Championships 2015 MVP – Ahkeem Mayers, however, is an understated character one can almost describe as muted. Despite this, his game time acumen and dynamic contributions to the team especially after the injury to his captain, was well deserving of the individual award.
While Stapleton is no stranger to individual accolades, copping Best Spiker, Best Digger, Best Server, and MVP at the 2013 CAZOVA Youth Championships, and then repeating the award for Best Spiker at 2014 NORCECA Youth Championships, this was Mayers’ first individual accolade.
The young gentlemen, who both started their international journeys at the 2012 CAZOVA Youth Championships and were members of the squad in 2013, visited the Barbados TODAY offices and sat down to chat about their sport and the tournament.
Stapleton said “I started at a really young age, my dad was coach and also a national player for Barbados, so I was always around volleyball. So when I was again introduced to it in school it was easy.”
Mayers had much the same to tell about his beginnings recalling his father’s days of international duty and attending his matches at a “very young age”.
According to Stapleton, he especially loves the committment shown by the current group of junior players
“It was the team aspect of the sport and moreso the individuals that make up this particular group that kept me committed,” Stapleton commented. “Just being around the team is a joy.”
We’ve been through a lot together since starting in 2012”, Mayers agreed with his captain.
With Mayers – the units’ off-setter – winning the MVP, it has underscored the depth of this team’s confidence in and knowledge of each other, to improvise and rearrange the rotation, mostly on the fly.
Stapleton sustained a shoulder injury in the tournament opener against Trinidad and Tobago, and with the team feeling home court pressure it seemed unsure how it would all go. “I started a bit nervous but after that first point it was easy to settle down”, Mayers explained.
“You never know what to expect when you are at home, some may be supportive, some may be on your back. But after the win I think the crowd really got behind us and that helped immensely,” chimed in Stapleton.
Speaking about what he thought contributed to his MVP title, Mayers recalled, “When ‘Driy’ injured his shoulder, I had to be a big man… and inspire the guys.”
“My team mates really supported me, I am happy that I won the MVP, but I was just doing my part for the team. I am more proud of what we accomplished together,” he explained.
Commenting about the tournament on a whole both agreed, that it felt especially good to be able to win at home.
“I think as juniors it goes a long way for all of us who are trying to make the senior team and go further with our careers,” they both agreed.
Looking forward, Stapleton said it was important to continue training together with the juniors in hope of extending ther history making run.
“We have to support each other and keep pushing the younger guys, I think our main focus will be helping them win a third title in a row.”
Giving full kudos to their parents, both youngsters pointed out that it was their mothers who really pushed them towards excellence and kept them focused, while their fathers lent support both on and off the court.
Both young men are now focused on representing their country at the senior level, attaining scholarships and plying their trade abroad.
Stapleton even has high hopes of going pro, “hopefully I can take it even further after the scholarship and maybe even play in Poland.”