For all of their recent exploits, Cayman’s squash players head to Glasgow as major underdogs.
Squash stars Myron Blair, Eilidh Bridgeman, Julian Jervis, Daniel Murphy, Cameron Stafford and Marlene West will be part of the Cayman Islands team competing in Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The competition, which runs July 23 to Aug. 3, will see the group contest the men’s and women’s singles events along with the men’s and mixed doubles categories. While Cayman holds its own among its Caribbean neighbors, nations such as England are the heavyweights of the sport.
Stafford, 22, is arguably Cayman’s top talent and was listed as No. 173 in the world rankings in April. Stafford, who was the flagbearer at the 2010 Games, says the goal in Glasgow is simple.
“It’s an enjoyable sport and my dislike is that it can be too much work, but I do enjoy playing the game,” Stafford said. “Beating a top-100 Professional Squash Association player was my best moment. Am I injury-free? Yes. My goals for the upcoming Games are to win medals and make my country proud.”
Squash is coming off a dazzling showing at the 2013 Island Games last summer in Bermuda, where the sport produced four gold medals. Stafford was on that squad, along with Bridgeman, Jervis and West, who had a hand in three of those gold medals.
West, Cayman’s most experienced performer on the national stage, points to the Scotland group as a good mix of youth and experience.
“Commonwealth is the Olympics for squash, basically,” West said. “You have the top-10 in the world being able to play. I think the younger guys recognize they can benefit from having some of the senior players and more experienced players. And I think some of our experienced players or senior players are getting a new twist on the game from the minds of the younger players.”
The squash team will be among the first local athletes in action in Glasgow, competing from 5 a.m. Cayman time (11 a.m. Scotland time) on July 24. Among the players competing is Bridgeman, 20, who spends her days playing squash in the North East of England at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne.
The former Cayman Prep student, whose talents improved locally under coach Mark Chaloner, says she has simple objectives.
“I’m training most days a week whilst studying sports science at Northumbria,” Bridgeman said. “My first coach, Dean Watson, was the reason I took up squash. I like the difficulty of squash but dislike the frustration of not getting it right. I also dislike the lack of recognition squash gets as a sport. What is my goal for the Games? Stay on court for at least 20 minutes!”
Another debutante in Scotland will be Jervis, 16, who has dominated the junior ranks over the years. The St. Ignatius student competed in the Caribbean Area Squash Association Junior Championships this month in Bermuda after emerging Cayman’s national Under-17 champion last month and nabbing the Caribbean junior title in the Under-15 segment two years ago. Jervis says he is in a favorable position for Scotland.
“I have a lot of friends around the Caribbean from different tournaments and stuff and they all say they envy me because I have so much experience around me to play with,” Jervis said. “It’s awesome.”
In all, there are 26 Cayman athletes attending the 2014 Games. Aside from squash, competitors will be split across six sports – athletics, boxing, cycling, gymnastics, shooting and swimming. It is the largest Commonwealth Games team ever assembled under the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee.
In athletics, Cayman will sport Tyrell Cuffy, Ronald Forbes, David Hamil, Kemar Hyman, Troy Long, Carl Morgan, Carlos Morgan and Ashleigh Nalty.
Geoffrey Butler, Lara Butler, David Ebanks, Brett Fraser, Lauren Hew and Alex McCallum are the swimmers. Christopher Jackson, Edison McLean and Andrew Schirn form the shooting team. Boxer Tafari Ebanks, cyclist Michele Smith and gymnast Bethany Dikau round out the competitors.
Javelin thrower Alex Pascal, 19, had been selected for the team but was forced to withdraw because he is recovering from “Tommy John” surgery on his right ulnar collateral ligament that he damaged during training. He also strained muscles in his forearm.
Sprinter Rhymiech Adolphus was also selected but is now unable to attend.
Cayman’s best chances of landing silverware rests with the swimmers – especially Olympian Fraser and Island Games heroine Lara Butler.
A podium finish would follow on the heels of track star Cydonie Mothersill-Stephens’s efforts four years ago, when she won Cayman’s first and only gold medal in athletics at the 2010 Games in Delhi, India.