September 26, 2012, Langley, BC (ISN) – They may be young, but the Mexican team competing at the inaugural U23 Pan American Men’s Volleyball Cup means business.
When Mexico took the floor Tuesday night against Canada, represented by the Trinity Western men’s volleyball team, for its opening match of the tournament, for some they were a full six years younger than many of the Spartans players standing across the net. And for one individual, starter Sebastien Castro, he was nearly seven years younger than some of the Trinity Western players.
But when the first serve flew over the net and this U19 Mexican side earned the match’s first point, age immediately became irrelevant and Mexico’s talent and skill simply took over. Stunning the Spartans in the first two sets, Mexico took a 2-0 lead as it was the “boys” – all of which were born in 1995 or 1996 – handing it to the bigger, stronger and more experienced “men.”
In two relatively quick sets, Mexico went from a bunch of young kids looking for experience, to a team capable of winning matches at the U23 level.
“They didn’t make errors,” Spartans captain Jarrod Offereins would say after the match. “We thought the game would be easy and they didn’t allow us to take advantage of our size. They played volleyball way better than we did at the beginning of the game.”
And while Trinity Western rallied to win three straight sets and eventually did claim the match in a lengthy five-setter, this Mexico team, which has been training as a unit for more than a year at the High Performance Center in Tijuana, Mexico, proved its worth in the U23 ring, punching in an age bracket well above their weight-class.
“We were clearly the older, more experienced, bigger and stronger team but Mexico showed great system, great discipline and great ball control and their decision-making of their hitters was spectacular,” said Spartan head coach Ben Josephson. “It’s a great lesson for our team to learn how important skills are to play this game really well. I thought it was a tight match between a big, physical team and a great skill team. All the credit to Mexico for having great skills and patience.”
And for these young Mexicans, Tuesday night’s game, while a disappointing loss, was a big step for the team and its ability to play well on an international stage. This was the first time this group had played in an international competition outside of Mexico and the players showed their skill sets are certainly capable of keeping up with the big boys.
“For us this was a great experience,” Mexico head coach Oscar Licea said following the match. “I am happy with the way the team played tonight against a very talented and experienced team like Canada. It helped us a lot and I’m glad about it.
“It’s very good for us in a matter of experience because we have been learning a lot. It’s a question of maturity. I want to see the players mature and it was a good game for that. Sometimes Canada neutralized our game but I saw the kids continuing on and they played with good discipline and tactically well and those are the things we want to achieve from this tournament in our preparation.”
And for this team, it is these types of matches and this type of tournament that will go a long way to preparing this group for its ultimate goal: the 2013 FIVB Youth World Championship, which is to be held in Mexico next August.
With players like Enrique Ugalde, who had a match-high 17 kills Tuesday, captain Maurcio Lopez, who added 12 points, and Sebastian Castro, who is the youngest player on the team as he doesn’t turn 16 until October but still contributed a team-high 11 running sets and also 11 digs, this side is certainly rounding into a tidy unit that will no doubt catch the eye of the opposition, not only this week at the Langley Events Centre but also at next year’s Youth World Championship.
Coming off a silver medal-winning performance at the 2012 U19 NORCECA Continental Championship in Tijuana – a competition in which their only loss came against Cuba in the final – Mexico, who was even on the younger end of that tournament, is clearly well-versed in negating any age advantages the opposition may have.
While they were unable to earn the win Tuesday – despite pushing the Spartans hard in what was a tight fifth set – they showed their skills off to a new part of the world and that new part was impressed.
“Every single guy had great ball control,” Josephson said about Mexico. “They had two or three guys setting and all of them had good deception and they had a really fast ball to the wing, which made us spread out so they could run a slower ball to the middle. I was really impressed with all of their players.”
These kids may be, by far, the youngest team in this week’s tournament, but it’s quite obvious already they’re future is stark white bright, and through their first match in the U23 Pan American Cup, they’ve clearly already caught the attention of their opposition.
Mexico is next on the court against Argentina Wednesday at 6 p.m. Following that, Mexico wil have a day off before playing Dominican Republic Friday at 6 p.m. and Brazil Saturday at 6 p.m.
All matches for the event are being streamed live and are available on a pay per view basis through the following links:
To buy tickets for the U-23 Pan American Volleyball Cup, go to www.langleyeventscentre.com or go to the TWU Bookstore on the Trinity Western University campus.