Trio at forefront of growing focus on youth
The Bermuda volleyball youth programme is making a significant impact, with three players training with the national team in preparation for next month's NatWest Island Games and one earning a college scholarship in Canada.
Leticia Ferriera, Sy McPeek and Amber Lopes are part of the Island Girls squad who are training for the Games — which take place from June 24-30 in Gotland, Sweden. And Ferriera will be heading over to play at Mount Allison University, the Sackville, New Brunswick-based school who won the Bermuda Open two weeks ago.
“I've been selected for a $5,000 scholarship from Mount Allison, plus another $1,000 to keep my grades up, plus I've been selected to play on their team,” Ferriera, 18, said. “I'm really excited! I'm leaving August 30th. Their housing opens August 31st. We're freshmen so we start before and we start practicing in the first week of September.”
All three players are graduates from a burgeoning school system and are training at Mount Saint Agnes Academy, which Ferriera attends. The Bermuda national team, featuring 21-year-old Lopes, finished third at the Open in which junior teams Junior Hitters and Paradise Hitters, for whom Ferriera and McPeek, 15, played.
Lopes was one of the pioneers in the junior programme.
“I've played since middle school and all throughout high school. Juanita Blee got me into it and then I was one of the first people to start the junior national team, with about 12 others. And then when I turned 18 I started playing for the women's team. I just like the sport!”
Ferriera and McPeek came here from overseas five years ago.
“I started playing when I came to MSA, because I'm not from here, I'm from Brazil,” Ferriera said. “I started playing for the school team in Grade 8 amd then in Grade 9, I started playing with the national team. I came here in 2012, and Grade 9 started in 2013. My mom lived here before, she came here to work and then she married a Bermudian.”
McPeek said: “I started playing when I lived in Colorado, so I played throughout middle school and then when we came here,” she said. “My parents are really good friends with one of the junior coaches and he encouraged me to try out with the junior national team and I ended up making the women's national team as well.
“I think it's definitely a different level of competition [in Bermuda], but I think the coaching is awesome here. The programme started off very small, so you got a lot of one-on-one work and you got to work on your technique and stuff. It's grown more, so now there's more people and stuff, but not having as many teams means the competitions a little bit lower.”
Lopes is also proof that, in a land where most scoring plays are made by spiking giants, you do not have to be tall to play volleyball. In fact, height is a disadvantage playing her position, the libero (which means “free” in Italian). Liberos are specialists who wear different coloured jerseys to their team-mates.
“Libero only plays in the back row,” Lopes explained. “They don't go to the front of the court, and we're defence specialists, so generally you take off a weaker passer and just level out the playing field in the back and do all the talking.
“[Being short] does help because generally, your middles or your weaker passers are taller and they can't let low to the floor, so you would sub them on and off and you're better at digging, running and sliding because you're closer to the floor.
“Normally a hit would come straight down and if you're standing up because you're too tall, you won't get it.”
Ferriera was in Brazil last summer to watch the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. “I went to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio to watch one of the games and mainly most of the players from the Brazilian team inspire me so much,” she said. “It's weird. I can relate to them at a certain level because they're from Brazil and I'm from Brazil, but they're so good! When I watched it I was amazed!”
McPeek also is inspired by the United States beach volleyball team,
“When I lived in Colorado my club used to go to the University of Northern Colorado games every month or so,” she said.
“As far as heroes, I like the US beach team, like Kerri Walsh Jennings.”
Lopes explained how different it is to play on the court compared to on the sand.
“It's actually a big difference,” she said. “The skills you use on the court, you can't use on the sand, really, so it's a bit different. The rules are different as well.”
The trio are really excited about the Island Games, but Lopes joked about how the Island Girls should have won gold at the Bermuda Open.
“We should've come first! No, we played really good, the teams were a lot tougher this year than the last few years I've played in it,” she said. “It was a tougher competition pool, which was nice for us.”