Americans go 7-1 on First Day of NORCECA Bonaire
BONAIRE – Kris Johnson played on the U.S. Indoor National Team for five years. He’s heard the stories about the NORCECA events, the indoor ones at least. The conditions typically aren’t great. Not usually a nice hotel. The mindset is play, win, get out.
Expectations for his first NORCECA on the beach were, predictably, low.
And then he flew into Bonaire.
Flew is almost a misnomer. He sort of puddle-jumped from Curacao, an island less than 50 miles and a 15-minute flight away. He crammed his 6-foot-9 – he’s listed at 6-foot-11, though he’s adamant he is not – frame into a roughly 15-seat plane, and island-hopped with a few other athletes onto a resort island of less than 20,000 residents.
“I don’t even want to talk about the play,” he said, laughing after he and Chris Austin went 2-0. “I just want to talk about the island. I did not expect this.”
Yes, it’s that nice, this petite little town. And hot. Hot enough that the heat index broke triple-digits before 9, and in Kyle Friend and Travis Mewhirter’s first match of the day, an 8 a.m. bout with Mexico’s Josue Gaxiola and Jose Rubio, a 15-minute medical timeout was needed by the top-seeded Mexicans in the third set.
“We knew every team was feeling the heat,” said Friend, who also went 2-0, beating Mexico 10-21, 21-17, 15-12, and the Virgin Islands 21-16, 21-15. “But once we saw Mexico was feeling the heat more than us it gave us a little bit of energy to battle through that. Everyone was facing the heat, it’s how are you going to react, how are you going to respond?”
Every American team responded fine, though certainly not perfect. Austin and Johnson went to three sets with Canadians Simon Fecteau-Botin and Ivan Reka in their first match, winning 15-12 in the third set. Allie Wheeler and Aurora Davis, after beating Bonaire 21-7, 21-0 in their first match, dropped a set to Trinidad and Tobago, eventually winning in three. And Friend and Mewhirter, after getting shellacked 21-10 in the first set to Mexico, responded with four straight sets won.
Melissa Fuchs Powell and Lindsey Fuller rounded out the American effort going 1-1 on the day, beating Curacao in the morning before falling to Mexico in the afternoon.
Friend and Mewhirter, with their two wins, have earned a bye into the quarterfinals. The remaining three American teams will have one more pool play game each before elimination rounds start in the afternoon and evening.
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