Aug. 29, 2008 — With new recruits hailing from St. Kitts to the U.S. mainland, the University of the Virgin Islands has restocked and retooled its athletic teams in hopes of getting to the top of the Intercollegiate Athletic League (LAI).
With its rise in popularity over the past couple of years, UVI has found it easier to recruit players. As proof, there have been 13 significant additions to this year's team rosters, members of the athletic staff said at a press conference Thursday at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas.
"We've come a long way from where we started," said UVI Athletic Director Peter Sauer. "We've been trying for 46-some years to get into a good league, and fortunately, about two-and-a-half years ago we got into the Intercollegiate Athletic League in Puerto Rico.
"It's a great league — it was started about 60 years ago and people don't really realize how good the teams are in our league, especially in the states. For example, in men's and women's volleyball, the seasonal teams, those from the Caribbean, will be favored to win the Division II national tournament. And in track and field and cross-country, we have times posted that are in the top six in the nation. We come to get better each year, and I expect this to be our best year, especially in men's volleyball."
With volleyball being one of UVI's most heavily recruited sports — bringing in St. Kitts' national volleyball team members St. Clair Hodge and Campbell Douglas, along with Keith Nicholson from Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and Tabari Williams from Charlotte Amalie High School — men's coach Jason Liburd believes his team is locked and loaded for the 2008-2009 season.
"We started two-and-a-half years ago in the league, and we realized the competition has been stiff so we've made efforts to improve our team tremendously," Liburd said. "And this year, we've added a few pieces to our team that would make us much more of a threat than in the past. So I hope that the season will be very, very successful, one that we've never seen before. Generally our goal is to win, and that's what we're going to do."
Though the season officially starts in September, UVI men's and women's volleyball teams will be participating in the 8th Annual UVI Labor Day Invitational Volleyball Tournament, which gets under way at the gym Friday.
"We have 12 teams participating, and eight of those teams are from off-island," said Curtis Gilpin Sr., UVI's women's volleyball coach and assistant athletic director. "The tournament is growing every year and can only get better from here — as a matter of fact, this year we had to deny entrance to one team because we didn't have the time or the space to put them on the schedule. But we have seven female teams and five male teams, and the tournament kicks off tomorrow with the first game at 7:30 p.m. and finishes on Sunday with the last game at 7:30 p.m."
One of UVI's most promising sports this year is track and field, which will be boosted by St. Thomas athletes such as Virgil Campbell and Creolar JnBaptiste from CAHS.
"Last year we came into our own to some degree when we had at least one athlete make it to the semifinals, so we're on an upswing with cross-country and track and field," said team coach Dale Joseph. "The season normally starts in October, so we're hoping that we'll be on time. We have a few athletes we've been recruiting in some sense of the word from CAHS, like Creolar JnBaptiste — we're hopeful that she'll place in at least the top half of cross-country — and Virgil Campbell who is a sprinter and can run the distance pretty well. We have a few others coming to the university from the United States who will be here for the season, and I hope they will make an impact on the team as well."
The men's basketball team recruited some mainland talent for their upcoming season, bringing in Kenny Violet from New York, along with Tortola natives Cedric Smith and Khamahl Anthony, whose sister will also be joining UVI's women's basketball team.
Men's coach Sean Georges seemed excited at the podium Thursday, talking about his team's upcoming season.
"The athletic program overall has tapped into several universities throughout the Caribbean and many of our athletes are coming as a result of that," he said. "UVI basketball will be doing the same and by tapping into the BVI, and agreements we have with their academic programs to recruit some athletes, we think we could diversify our team and improve the points we hope to make."
Not to be outdone, women's basketball also was able to acquire one of their top recruits in St. Croix's Cheynae Rogers. Gilpin, also the women's basketball coach, said he hopes Rogers will help the team "down low and help get us back into action to some degree."
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