IT’S FAIR COMMENT to say that when the UWI Games get underway in TT on May 21, the hosts campus will be hard-pressed to turn home advantage into victory. While not impossible, the odds are clearly against them. One has to look further back than the last three editions to find St Augustine top of the heap, and that fact is not lost on any of the campus squads preparing for the event, among which is the Women’s Volleyball outfit.

Trinidad and Tobago may boast of having the top national women’s volleyball team in the English-speaking Caribbean, but the records are not so flattering for St Augustine at the UWI Games. The women’s title has eluded them in recent times; Mona Campus took it in TT 2009, the hosts Cave Hill did so in 2011 and repeated as women’s champions at Mona in 2013.

Macsood Ali, the long-standing St Augustine women’s coach, could not immediately recall their last victory. “Over the years, we win some and we normally come second,” he told Newsday. “We never really come third.” Ali has been a national coach since 1992; he is head coach at El Socorro-based Glamorgan and he also coaches a number of secondary school teams, as well as the St Augustine campus squad.

Fine-tuning for this month’s campaign was moved to the Eastern Credit Union La Joya auditorium, as the UWI Sports and Physical Education Centre (UWI-SPEC) facility is booked for campus examinations.

Exams are also playing havoc with their sessions, but the players are quite upbeat in spite of all the challenges. Shushanna Marshall, an outside-hitter, says they make adjustments as necessary. “Some of the players aren’t here right now, but we understand that education is priority. You would like everyone to come out, but at vital times, once we have a setter and you have the outside attackers like myself, Avi and Mershawna, who’s also a libero, it works.”

Marshall, a 25-year-old Masters student in Agri Safety & Quality Assurance, has developed rapidly as a player since taking up the sport eight years ago; she was a member of the team that finished runners-up at Mona in 2013, and recently captained Glamorgan in the Super League.

Avoni Seymour, a Bahamian national team player is another the team will rely heavily on. “I understand some of the girls are new, but some of them are really good, like Shushanna.” An outside-hitter and defensive specialist, Avoni says she enjoys helping her less-experienced teammates. One of three players who are studying medicine, she says that by means of time management, the sport is an asset in her academic pursuits. “I love sports in general, but I focus my time on my schooling and my part-time job at the university, as well as training for volleyball; and volleyball is also a stress reliever for me so I use it to help balance off my schooling with my job.”

The team also includes two players who have represented TT at junior international level. Assisted by his son Saleem, a former national Men’s player, Coach Ali says they basically work on every aspect of the game. “Physical fitness, drills, then probably one part of the game you want to work on, maybe tonight, middle-blocking; you work on parts of the game you think you’re weak in, and try to develop all aspects.”

If they can pull it off, victory would go a long way towards St Augustine taking the title of champion Campus.