Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

For all the experience that Rebecca Spencer possesses in what has been a fairly successful career, she has never been to a global tournament before, so this summer's FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, would be her crowning moment.

The England-born goalkeeper, who started her career in the youth system at Watford before moving to Arsenal, also spent time at Nottingham Forest and Gillingham on loan, after which she travelled to France where she had a stint with ASJ Soyaux.

Spencer later returned to England and had spells at Birmingham City, Chelsea and West Ham United, but later found the right fit with her current employers Tottenham Hotspurs. 

Along the way, she was capped by England at Under-19 and Under-20 levels and also received a call-up to the senior England squad in 2016.

However, in June 2021, Spencer, who qualifies to represent Jamaica through her grandparents, made her senior international debut with the senior Reggae Girlz and was instrumental in the team’s second-consecutive World Cup qualification, as she paraded her goalkeeping skills with much gusto, particularly, at the Concacaf Women’s Championship in Mexico.

At 32 years old, the vastly experienced Spencer has no qualms in admitting that she is at a ripe age in her career, especially in an era when bright young prospects are unearthed at an increasingly earlier age, which is why she is intent on making the most of this opportunity.

In fact, she is currently facing stiff competition from 23-year-old Sydney Schneider to decide who will be the Reggae Girlz number one shot-stopper at the showpiece, with 18-year-old Liya Brooks as their understudy.

The Lorne Donaldson-coached Girlz are currently engaged in a local camp after which the tactician and his assistant Xavier Gilbert will decide on the final 23-player squad for the July 20 to August 20 World Cup.

"Personally, I want to have the best competition of my life, obviously I'm 32, so I'm not getting any younger. But you know, nothing really phases me in any situation, I kind of have a lot of experience obviously playing in England so long, so I hope I can bring that experience to the World Cup and help the team," Spencer said.

"So, I am look forward to it and hopefully I can just do my Job and be there for the team and the rest of the team will put their best foot forward as well. Like coach said our team is probably the best we have ever had so I am really confident in what we can do when we get to the World Cup. We could surprise everyone that's there," she added.

Having joked about her age declaring that some days she is reflective, it is left to be seen if Spencer will push her career to possibly make another World Cup appearance in 2027, but until then she is living in the moment and, as such, is firmly focused on steadily building towards the upcoming tournament.

"Obviously it would be a very proud moment, but I haven't thought that far ahead as yet, we still have a lot more preparation time to go that I've not let that part of it sink in as yet," Spencer said.

"I'm just focusing on camp-to-camp and at the moment my mind is fully here not the World Cup as yet. I want to get this training week out of the way and obviously, if selected, when we get to Amsterdam, it's going to give a feel of how things are going to be when we get to Melbourne. Once we get to Amsterdam, then its go time for us," she reasoned.

Many may not be aware, but Spencer, like many before her, initially started out as a striker, before finding comfort in goalkeeping, a complex position that requires physicality, strong mentality, and a highly unique set of skills. 

While every good goalkeeper must be able to produce a range of different saves, there’s a lot more to it than just technical ability. Spencer would tell you that a top goalkeeper needs to be brave, an excellent communicator, focused, determined, and, more importantly, willing to endure the criticisms and disappointments that come with the job.

"Playing football at the highest level is challenging in every moment, there are plenty of ups and downs but it's also very rewarding because I measure success through personal growth. So yes, there are disappointments but if I set certain goals for each season or a tournament and I achieve them, that's certainly a success for me," she shared.

Finally, Spencer, who pointed out that if it wasn't football, she would have enjoyed working in health care, because she enjoys taking care of people in need, welcomed the initiative by FIFA which guarantees all players at the World Cup at least US$30,000 in prize money.

"Obviously it's excellent, it's a big incentive for players and we are going to be geared up to get out of the group stages which means it could be more, but for us as players, we don't normally think about that, we normally focus on the football, but FIFA has done a great thing by doing that," she ended.

 

The senior Reggae Girlz may be far advanced in their preparations for the FIFA Women's World Cup, but Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) president Michael Ricketts welcomed Restaurants of Jamaica's (ROJ) $7 million sponsorship as a timely injection that will ensure the Lorne Donaldson-coached team breathe much easier heading Down Under.

Ricketts believes the Girlz have not been shown enough appreciation for their historic accomplishment of qualifying for a second-consecutive World Cup but says KFC's support represents a step in the right direction and another example which he hopes other corporate companies will follow.

The one-year partnership will see KFC pumping $6 million in cash and another $1 million in products to the Reggae Girlz, who are currently in camp putting the final pieces in place ahead of the July 20 to August 20 showpiece, in Australia and New Zealand.

"We need to show far more appreciation to our Girlz and when you think of the struggles some of these players went through, the sacrifice and commitment to get a country like ours to two global tournaments consecutively, it is no ordinary achievement," Ricketts said during a press conference at JFF’s St Lucia Avenue base on Wednesday.

"So, I must recognize Mr. [Andrei] Roper and KFC for coming on board to partner with the JFF to ensure that we improve the quality of life for all these girls that constantly and consistently make us so very proud. This is something that we can gloat about and hopefully this really sends a strong signal to Jamaica as it relates to the positive and social impact that these two qualifications have on our little boys and girls," he added.

While most of their focus is currently on the World Cup, Ricketts said the Olympic Games Qualifiers against Canada in September, as well as the women's Nations League and Gold Cup, has not been lost on them, hence is call for more support.

But beyond that and despite the financial constraints, the president pointed out that his administration is intent on getting things right going forward, particularly where developing the country's football from the grassroots is concerned.

By virtue of the Girlz qualification, the JFF is assured of just over US$1.5 million from FIFA, but that figure could increase if the team goes beyond the group stage. The Girlz are drawn in Group F alongside France, Brazil and Panama.

"We are just intent on ensuring that the whole psyche of our little boys and girls are positively impacted. We struggle to meet our footballing demands when you think that we have 12 teams, six on either side of the gender, that we must take care of, it is challenging, but we are managing.

"So, I want to again mention our sponsors we had Courts last week and now KFC joining the Marley Foundation and others, but we need other corporate entities to come on board as we try to impact the social needs of the boys and girls that are interested in playing the sport," Ricketts shared.

"We must put programmes in place, and we are intent on getting a proper grassroots programme. We have a committee which is responsible for talent identification, grassroots and development, so this committee will be very active in identifying grassroots kids and having them properly harnessed and then get them in a formal setting so we can then make the transition from little kids to high school players and then inevitably, national players," the president noted.

Meanwhile, ROJ’s Brand Manager Andrei Roper explained that this partnership with the senior Reggae Girlz is an extension of that with captain and prolific goal scorer, Khadija "Bunny" Shaw.

The 26-year-old Manchester City striker, who is not in the current camp, is expected to join up with the final squad when they head to Amsterdam for a pre-tournament camp before heading to Australia.

"We really wanted to help to make the Reggae Girlz journey to the World Cup that much easier, theirs is a tremendous achievement and I don't think we fully appreciate as a nation what a huge achievement it is. They are true ambassadors for Jamaica, not just for women's sport but for brand Jamaica on a whole, so for us at KFC we pride ourselves on giving back... just supporting all those pillars of society that really represent everything positive about Jamaica," Roper affirmed.

"Women's football is an area where we did see an opportunity to really give a bit more as a brand. Last year, we started a partnership with Khadija Shaw as our big deal ambassador, so this is just a fitting extension of our relationship with Khadija, who is the face of women's football and so we are broadening our scope and partnership to the wider Reggae Girlz programme.

"So, we just want to say thanks and just to help make their preparations a bit easier because we know it’s going to be a tough group and so we want to just really make the last lap going Down Under that much easier. So great partnership for us and we are glad to be on board," he stated.

For some, owning a football club is a statement that you are at a certain level as a businessman. But for Mount Pleasant Football Academy’s owner Peter Gould, it is not just about status.

In fact, Gould would readily tell you that he cares little what others think about his financial status and more about fulfilling his heart’s desire –to change the landscape and, by extension, help shape the legacy of Jamaica’s football through his academy.

“We had a couple of setbacks, you know the Covid-19 pandemic was a big setback obviously, but we are gaining back our strength and momentum and I think we should be in a better place by September. So, we are pretty excited, we have put a lot of work into the academy and the platform is well and truly set to accomplish all that we want to,” Gould declared.

“It will take a few years to build a complete institution, but we have people willing to come along and help us to move to another level, so we firmly believe we will be able to get there and put Jamaica’s football on the map the real way,” he added.

The Englishman established the academy in 2016 after he travelled to Jamaica and fell in love with the Mount Pleasant community in St Ann. Two years later, Gould opened a state-of-the-art football facility, which he said was designed to properly develop and nurture the talent of some of country’s young football prospects.

Incidentally, 2018 was also the same year that Mount Pleasant’s senior team, formerly known as “Stush in the Bush”, earned promotion to the Jamaica Premier League (JPL), and five years later, they are crowned kings of top-flight football.

The team, boasting one of its academy products, Devonte Campbell, defeated Cavalier 2-1 in Sunday’s final at Sabina Park, courtesy of a Sue-Lae McCalla brace. Collin Anderson got Cavalier’s goal.

“This is our first Premier League success, so it feels good, this was one of our objectives and it is great that we achieved it. I am happy, the fans are happy, and I also believe the community is widening in terms of people supporting our movement. So, obviously we are doing something right and I firmly believe that they only way to build is from the community,” Gould noted, as they continue to celebrate the parish’s first national title.

While it is unlikely that the entire Mount Pleasant setup, including the academy is yielding much return on investment for Gould and his wife Amanda, he said it is imperative that they maintain their standards to continue impacting the lives of the young charges, in particular.

Through the innovative project at the academy, the young men benefit from a high school education, as directed by the Ministry of Education, along with a structured football training programme.

The Mount Pleasant Football Academy has already sent Under-13 and Under-15 teams overseas to compete, with the latter currently representing St Ann in a Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) youth tournament.

“Listen the investment, I don’t even count it, the investment is about changing people’s lives, it is about the kids and exposing them. The ambition is to develop talent for the future, but more than that, they are getting an education and that I believe is the way of getting quality football…educating your players and then you get that discipline on and off the field," Gould opined.

He continued: “This is what we have coming through the vine and as we keep expanding you will have more kids coming to Jamaica to do their English and Mathematics and to play football. Many parents are making plans for their kids in the coming period, so they can go into officiating or coaching and analytics, so it is looking quite lovely.

“So, we are absolutely in it for the long haul, we are still building and putting in plans as we go along, it is just to get it done faster but it has been non-stop movements.”

Though admitting that there were times when he was infuriated by the Premier League team’s substandard performances, Gould reiterated that his approach is one of heart over head as he is well aware that in football, success comes at a high price. As such, he pointed out that the thought of backing out never once surfaced.

“I can’t say I was never disappointed especially when we were losing against 10 men, I was like what the hell, but still I was planning for the next match. So, we had some bad days on the road but no, never felt like backing out. We are here for the cause, we started something, and we intend to see it through. We know it won’t all happen one time, but we are managing to stay on the horse and get down the course,” the benefactor shared.

“We will announce some plans in a few weeks that I think really will engage the audience and will hopefully help the transformation of football and the youths. So, we have some experienced people coming on board because obviously it is not a two-person job me and my wife, we have other people wanting to join the train,” Gould disclosed.

Like every sporting team, Mount Pleasant also have their fair share of behind-the-scenes flaws, but Gould praised the efforts of Head coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore and his assistant Davion Ferguson, as well as manager Paul Christie in ensuring that whatever issues arise, are dealt with in a professional manner.

“To be quite honest I don’t really get involved in the day-to-day happenings. We have a management in place and Paul Christie is that lieutenant, he manages to take that control of leading with Tappa and Fergie. We have a meeting once a week when I’m in the country, but he [Christie] has put in tremendous work since he joined, Tappa has been so easy to work with, Fergie as well, so it has been a good team effort.

“They have a good team there, doctors and physios, again I don’t want to get involved in the players’ day-to-day, so yes we have issues, but we have people there that manage it as best as we can,” Gould explained.

Finally, the businessman said they will continue to aim high with Mount Pleasant Football Academy which he believes boasts a bright future.

“The plan is just to keep engaging the kids in Jamaica, we will be taking more kids on, and we will be doing a few projects in the summer,” he said.

“The future is looking bright, and we want to make Mount Pleasant a household name in Jamaica and so we will carry on with pride. I am not saying we will win the title every year, but we want to continue raising the bar,” Gould ended.

Millions of dollars were invested to establish Mount Pleasant Football Academy in 2016 with hopes that it would one day become the standard bearer of Jamaica's football. 

Two years later in 2018, Mount Pleasant secured promotion to the nation’s top-flight league and five years later, the wait by fans in the garden parish of St Ann for a Jamaica Premier League (JPL) title, came to an end.

A brace by Sue Lae McCalla in the 7th and 89th minutes, saw Mount Pleasant to its first national championship, as they edged Cavalier Football Club 2-1 in a keenly contested final at Sabina Park on Sunday.

Collin Anderson had earlier pulled Cavalier level in the 83rd minute with his 20th goal of the season, becoming the first player to record such a tally since Reno's Craig Foster in the 2014-15 season.

McCalla, who also won a JPL title at Portmore United, jokingly told a member of the coaching staff ahead of the game that he would score two goals, one at either end of the park, and it indeed proved most prophetic.

As such, of the 24 goals scored in his Premier League career, the 30-year-old said none was more important than the two on the night.

"Before the game I told the masseuse that I had two goals to score, one in the top goal and one at the other end so it was destined to happen. I came out here to lead by example and win my team the title, so this means a lot and will go down as part of my legacy," McCalla, who wore the captain’s armband for 65 minutes plus, said in a post-game interview.

With the first title now in hand owner Peter Goule displaying the spending power to further improve a team that drafted a number of the country's best players over the years, Head coach Theodore "Tappa" Whitmore believes this could mark the start of many more JPL honours to come. 

"Words can't explain the feeling at the moment, we set out on a journey, and we have completed that journey now with a win and I am very proud of the work done by everyone from the players to the support staff and management," the former Reggae Boyz captain said.

"It was a tough season, we went through a lot, the road wasn't easy, but we made the necessary adjustments along the way, and we finally did it this afternoon. The support of the Goules is very important to our charge and this is just the beginning of lots more trophies to come," Whitmore added.

The showpiece promised much between two teams of some quality, and it didn't disappoint the well over 10,000 fans, many of whom journeyed from St Ann.

So, it was only right that Mount Pleasant gave them something to cheer about and McCalla sent them into frenzy when he firmly headed Devonte Campbell's weighted corner past Vino Barclett.

Mount Pleasant lost inspirational captain Ladale Richie to injury in the 25th minute, but it mattered little as his teammates gallantly fought on to add to their tally.

They should have done so on a number of occasions, but a lack of proper positioning and poor decision-making at times, denied them at that point.

In the 32nd minute, Devonte Campbell rounded the well-advanced Barclett in a blistering counterattack, but failed to get a proper cross in with Trivante Stewart and Kimonie Bailey waiting in the six-yard box.

Four minutes later Stewart dazzled his marker with some nippy footwork and made space for a cross which went begging, as none of his teammates were on hand to apply the finish at the far post. 

Cavalier had the best of their few looks at goal in the 37th minute later when Nickache Murray's delightful pass inside the danger area found an unmarked Jerome McCleary, who failed to make it count.

And Stewart got away from defenders but had his delayed effort charged down by Barclett, who left his line well on that occasion to ensure it remained 1-0 at the break. 

The second half offered very little to write home about, but just when it seems it was done and dusted for Mount Pleasant, Anderson popped up with a timely goalmouth finish that threatened extra time.

However, it was not to be, as cometh the hour, cometh McCalla, who again rose highest to expertly head past Barclett from Ricardo Morris's corner a minute from time.

While the relief for the Mount Pleasant camp was unmistakable as they were flocked by jubilant fans that invaded the Sabina Park field, the disappointment of Cavalier's Head coach Rudolph Speid and his players, was clear for all to see.

“I thought it if we had gone to extra time we would have taken over because they were making a lot of changes and their quality was going down. But two headed goals by Sue Lae McCalla, I wouldn’t have dreamed that would have happened and it is unfortunate that we couldn’t hold on for the extra time,” Speid said.

 

Reigning champion jockey Dane Dawkins inched closer to rivals in the race to retain his title, as he rode a dazzling three-timer, including Perfect Brew, who dismantled the field to cop the Alsafra Trophy over a mile (1,600m) at Caymanas Park on Saturday. 

Perfect Brew, conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Richard Azan, justified favouritism, romping the three-year-old and upward Overnight Allowance race by six lengths in a time of 1:38.0. The splits were 23.4, 45.4 and 1:11.1.

The four-year-old bay gelding, who finished nine lengths behind the reigning Horse of the Year Atomica over seven furlongs (1,400m) on May 23, showed that he was better off from that run, as Dawkins rode a patient race, while Ameth Robles played catch me if you can aboard former Horse of the Year Further and Beyond.

Returning from an almost one-year break, Further and Beyond, now trained by Donovan Hutchinson, rushed to an early three length lead, which rapidly increased on the backstretch, as the rest of the field settled well off the blistering pace.

By the time Robles and Further and Beyond left the five-furlong mark and flashed past the half-mile, they were well over six lengths in front with Stomp The Rhythm (Anthony Thomas) and Marquesas (Tevin Foster), the closest pursuers at the point.

However, Dawkins made his move aboard Perfect Brew at the three-furlong point and after hitting top stride in the home stretch, they swept by a now-tiring Further and Beyond, whose lack of race fitness was well advertised, and a fighting Stomp The Rhythm, in the latter stages to win. Marquesas completed the frame.

While it was the first win of the season for Perfect Brew, it was Dawkins's 35th of the season, as he moved within 10 of leader Reyan Lewis and two shy of second-place Tevin Foster.

Dawkins earlier won aboard Jaguar in the fifth race giving newly licensed trainer Ricardo Mathie a first win from his first start. He later piloted Big Guy In The Sky to victory in the ninth race for trainer Gary Subratie.

Meanwhile, Barrington Bernard and Courtney Williams, who are also freshly licensed trainers, also won their first races. Bernard won the first race with Anngelos (Roger Hewitt), while Williams won the seventh race with Zion (Phillip Parchment).

While Jamaica's Netball culture and current ranking pits the Sunshine Girls as overwhelming favourites to win gold at the upcoming Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games, Nicole Aiken-Pinnock is mindful that it still requires efficient execution to get the job done.

As such, Aiken-Pinnock, who will guide the 12-member number-four ranked Jamaican team to the 24th staging of the June 23 to July 8 Games in El Salvador, is taking steps to guard against complacency and ensuring that players take nothing for granted.

"On paper, we are expected to win, but at the same time, we know the games aren't played on paper so we will not only have to turn up, but more importantly, execute accordingly. So, we just have to take it one game at a time," Aiken-Pinnock said.

"We have to turn up and be ready for every game. We have to respect our opponents and make sure we give of our best regardless of who we play against because they will not be handing any win to us. I am sure we will have to work hard for our wins, so we have to just work hard and believe in our structure and execute," she added.

Aiken-Pinnock revealed that their preparations have so far been on course to achieve their intended goal, with only some fine-tuning required over the next week.

"Preparations have been going well, I can tell you that there is a lot of intensity and focus at the sessions. The drive and effort of the ladies is commendable, and we just have to keep working at the small things and try to be as consistent as possible," she said.

Aiken-Pinnock, a former defender, who represented Jamaica at numerous major tournaments, knows the importance of a fielding a solid team with some depth, which is why she welcomes the addition of the experienced Adean Thomas and Rebekah Robinson to accompany rising stars Crystal Plummer, Abigale Sutherland, and defender Kimone Shaw, who are all a part of the squad to the World Cup later this year.

With this being the first time in CAC Games history that netball will be a part of the multi-sports event, Aiken-Pinnock said it represents an opportunity for the young players, in particular, to show their class and, by extension, gauge their readiness for the showpiece in South Africa.

"We do have a few ladies who will be participating in their first major tournament for Jamaica away from home, so we just have to ensure that stay mentally prepared and ready for what is to come at the Games," Aiken-Pinnock noted.

These games will definitely assist our young players going into the World Cup, especially Crystal, to prepare her for what is to come at the big dance," she ended.

Full Squad:

Shooters – Shadine Bartley, Simone Gordon, Amanda Pinkney, and Rebekah Robinson

Centre court – Crystal Plummer, Abigale Sutherland, Adean Thomas, and Quannia Walker

Defenders – Theresa Beckford, Paula-Ann Burton, Abbeygail Linton, and Kimone Shaw

 

Such is the impressive form of triple jump sensation Jaydon Hibbert that he only required two attempts to win the event and end his freshman year of college undefeated.

In fact, it was on his very first jump that Hibbert cut the sand at the winning mark of 17.56m, in a negative 0.3 metres per second wind, on Friday's third and penultimate day of the NCAA Division 1 Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Austin, Texas.

Hibbert representing University of Arkansas followed that with another big leap of 17.38m, but later pulled out of his run up for a third and fourth attempts, as he suffered what appeared to be cramps or some discomfort in his right leg.

However, the damage was already done, as his initial mark which bettered the previous Facility Record of 17.13m and was just shy of the Meet Record of 17.57m, ensured that the former Kingston College stalwart added another accolade to his South-eastern Conference indoor and outdoor titles, as well as the NCAA indoor honours. The 18-year-old, also smashed a number of records, including the World Under-20 mark for indoor and outdoor, along the way.

Hibbert won ahead of University of Miami's Russell Robinson (16.94m) and Florida State senior, Jeremiah Davis (16.67m).

Owayne Owens (16.36m) of University of Virginia and Malik Cunningham (16.17m) of Villanova, were sixth and seventh, while Hibbert's Arkansas teammates Carey McLeod (15.99m), who won the long jump in a Jamaican sweep, and Ryan Brown (15.89m), finished 11th and 12th respectively.  Apalos Edwards of Louisiana State, did not turn up.

On the track, Phillip Lemonious of Arkansas capped his college career in style with victory in the men’s 110m hurdles to claim his first individual national title and in the process became the first Arkansas athlete to win the event since 2006.

Lemonious, who clocked a personal best 13.28 seconds in qualifying, lowered that time when he stopped the clock in 13.24s, running in a positive 1.8m/s wind. He maintained his composure over the 10 obstacles from a good break in lane five, to stave off the late challenge of De'Vion Wilson (13.26s) of Houston and Jaheem Hayles (13.28s) of Syracuse.

Giano Roberts of Clemson was fifth in 13.31s.

It was sweet redemption for the 24-year-old Lemonious, who endured a rough patch last season.

"To be honest, I try so hard. Last year took a toll on me and coming back this year was also hard battling injuries, but I just had to trust my coach, who told me that this is my championship to win so I went out there and got it," Lemonious said shortly after the race.

University of South Florida junior, Romaine Beckford, also showed good form on the night to win the men’s high jump and successfully complete the double, adding this outdoor championship to his indoor title. 

Beckford soared to a new personal best height of 2.27m on his way to victory, denying Oklahoma senior, Vernon Turner, who also cleared 2.27m, but had to settle for second on the count back. Roberto Vilches of Missouri was third with a season's best leap of 2.24m.

Former St George’s College student Zayne Palomino of Southern Mississippi finished down the pack after he only managed to clear 2.06m.

Elsewhere in the field, Roje Stona of the University of Arkansas, who placed 14th in the shot put, produced a stronger showing in the discus, placing second behind the vibrant Turner Washington of Arizona State.

Stona, launched the instrument to a big fourth round mark of 65.55m and seemed well on his way to the gold, before Washington snatched victory with his very last effort of 66.22m, a season’s best.

Former Petersfield standout Kevin Nedrick of Liberty University was fifth with a mark of 61.93m, while Stona's Arkansas teammate Ralford Mullings was 16th at 57.68m.

Meanwhile, Jevaughn Powell, finished seventh in the men’s 400m final in 45.32s, as his University of Florida teammates Emmanuel Bamidele and Ryan Willie both clocked personal best times of 44.24 and 44.25 in a close one-two finish. Emmanuel Bynum of Tennessee also clocked a personal best 44.49 for third.

Powell later joined forces with Bamidele, Jacory Patterson and Willie to clinch victory in the 4X400m relay, to retain the Men’s Team crown.

There were no signs of tired legs on display as all four athletes clocked blistering splits, with Powell on the third leg being clocked at 44.94s, passing to Willie, who closed in 44.28s to stop the clock in 2:57.74, a new Facility, Meet and Collegiate Record.

Arizona State (2:57.78) and UCLA (2:59.82) were second and third respectively.

The Mike Holloway-coached Gators tallied 57 points, four ahead of Arkansas, with Stanford (44 points) and Louisiana State University (43 points), placing third and fourth.

Don't wish for it. Work for it.

That is the motto that United States-born Barbadian gymnast Olivia Kelly lives by, as she has always been motivated to turn her thoughts into actions.

In fact, at 17 years old, Kelly has her eyes set on accomplishing a goal which, if successful, will propel her budding career to higher heights. The goal? To be the first gymnast to represent the Eastern Caribbean Island at the Olympic Games.

Achieving such a dream is by no means impossible and Kelly, also known as "Storm," in gymnastics circles, positioned herself to bring it to fruition when she placed 10th at the PanAm Gymnastics Championships in Medellin, Colombia recently, and earned a spot to the World Gymnastics Championships for a second year consecutively.

The championships scheduled to begin late September in Antwerp, Belgium, serves an Olympic qualifier and, as such, Kelly is focused on ensuring her performance quality and the details of her routine are on point, while staying physically and mentally healthy.

"I’m not really aiming to do anything much different other than to stay healthy and keep training hard. My goals this year were always to just train hard, trust my training at Worlds, and hopefully qualify for the 2024 Olympics," Kelly, who has a number of first for Barbados, declared.

"I've devoted a lot to this sport and so I always want to be competitive, but my best is all I can do and if I do that, I will always be satisfied," she added.

At the PanAm Championships, Kelly, who earns her Barbadian stripes through her father, Tori, scored 12.867 for her vault routine, 11.867 on uneven bars, 12.267 on the balance beam and 12.467 for her floor routine, for an All-Around total of 49.468.

"Colombia, was so much fun and I’m very pleased with the performance. I definitely feel like I can work on little things for Worlds, but I think this was a great meet for me," Kelly noted.

That performance, she said, was a reflection of the lessons learnt from last when she made her debut appearance on the international stage.

"I gained a lot of experience from last year which was a learning year for me in the international field. At both the Pan American Championship in Rio and the World Championships in Liverpool, I fell on bars, but even then, I still had a great experience. So, coming into this year, I felt way more prepared and confident because of my 2022 season. 

"That season taught me that I can be resilient and bounce back in the next event. I’ve learned that I can push that negative energy back and really focus on what’s happening now instead of the past," Kelly reasoned.

While she is clearly identified as one of, if not the best young gymnast for her country, Kelly, who got involved with the sport at two years old, when she took tumbling and mommy-and-me classes, knows she still has some ways to go.

As such, the North Stars Gymnastics Academy stalwart, guided by coach Ashley Umberger, a former member of the United States senior international gymnastics team, is determined to continue working over 30 hours per week to improve physically and mentally challenges to realize her dream.

"The aim is always to be better than you were before. So, I am going to add some skills for Worlds and clean up my routines, as well as build up my mental toughness and my confidence a little bit more," Kelly, who is homeschooled with Florida Virtual Global School, ended.

It is so far so good for top Trinidad and Tobago cyclist Nicholas Paul on the international circuit, and he is determined to keep that rhythm going for the remainder of the season.

While he is well aware that it is easier said than done, Paul has no intentions of overthinking things. Instead, the 24-year-old is focused on the basics –ensuring he is fit, healthy and trusting the process.

Paul's revelation came after he won the Men’s Elite Sprint gold medal at the International Cycling Union (UCI) Class One event in Germany recently, which he believes puts him on course to achieve his targets this year.

The win followed his series of unstoppable performances at the UCI Nation’s Cup in Milton Canada, as well as the ‘Speed Paradise’ and the Carnival of Speed events at the National Cycling Centre (NCC) in Balmain, Couva, all in April.

"My race in Germany was great. I came away with the victory in the sprints and I executed all my other races well, so I’m really pleased with my performance," Paul said.

"So, in terms of my readiness and preparations, I am on track in regard to my set goals, I just have to keep working hard to get faster, stronger and smarter for the rest of my upcoming races," he added.

In any sport, there are always ups and downs and when things are going bad it seems a bit harder, much like Paul experienced during a challenging but successful 2022 season through which he had to exercise patience, persistence and more importantly, smile in the face of adversity.

At the start of that season, Paul crashed and broke his collarbone at the First Nations Cup in Glasgow, Scotland and was out of training and competitions for about two months. 

After recovering from that injury, the Gasparillo-born cyclist went on to win two gold medals at the Third Nations Cup in Cali, Colombia and followed that up with impressive performances at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, setting a new Games Record in the flying 200m Time Trial. He also won a full set of medals gold, silver and bronze in the Keirin, Sprints and 1km Time Trial.

But then came another setback.

"My last event should have been the World Championship in France. However, another unfortunate crash in preparation for the World Championship prematurely ended my 2022 season," Paul shared.

"So, there were a lot of highs and lows last season, but they taught me a lot as an athlete. My mental preparedness in sports has been enhanced and I am very clear that nothing is impossible once you put your mind to it. Hurdles are sometimes a part of life but the lesson is how you rise above your hurdles," he said.

Now that things are back on track and he is currently enjoying a high, Paul is hoping to add more silverware from the Pan American Cycling Championships, the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games, World Championships and the Pan American Games, to his collection.

"But my overall goal for this year and beyond is to firstly qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games and secondly, try to win a medal or medals at the Olympic Games for Trinidad and Tobago," Paul declared.

Lorne Donaldson has expressed concerns about aspects of his senior Reggae Girlz transitional play ahead of the FIFA Women's World Cup, but at the same time, he remains optimistic that the playing philosophy will come together in time for the global showpiece.

Donaldson's preparation and plans around the make-up of his final 23-player squad for the July 20 to August 20 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, has been dogged by injuries to key players and unconvincing performances at times, more recently in a 2-0 win over Sheffield United in England.

That has forced the tactician and his assistants Xavier Gilbert and Ak Lakhani to conduct further assessments, with an upcoming camp scheduled for June 11-20 in Kingston, representing the last opportunity for players to impress the coaching staff.

"We didn't get a chance to do what we wanted to do in England so after this camp, we can select the final 23 and then we fly to Amsterdam on July 1 and the real preparation to fine tune our team chemistry, the speed of our transitional play and playing philosophy starts there," Donaldson shared.

"We will of course also take a close look at how we defend, but that's something the whole team must be involved in, not just the back line. So, our final decision in terms of the players we take to the World Cup is going to be done on the basis of who is ready to play right now," he declared.

Though the initial plans bringing the team to the island was for a two-match sendoff series, Donaldson explained that there were logistical issues in securing the games and so the just over a week-long camp will have to suffice.

"We would have loved a sendoff game but the logistics around the game is very difficult and that is nobody's fault. So, there is disappointment that we won't get a game, but I think we will get a lot out of the camp because we need to look at some players and I think that will help us to get a better evaluation of where the players are," Donaldson added.

Former captain Konya Plummer, who is still working her way back to full fitness coming off maternity leave and winger Trudi Carter, are among the 26 players Donaldson intends to invite for the camp.

"Players like a Konya and Trudi and other players have been without a club so we need to make sure that we know where they are, and we still might have one or two young players come in.  But again, our final decision is going to be based on who is ready to play right now.

"Yes, there are some players who are safe, but they still have to show something because the players coming in are going to push them. We can't live in the past we have to look at what we have now and select the best team possible to show up at the World Cup and perform," the head coach stated.

But beyond that, Donaldson pointed out that he is already looking to position the programme for the next cycle.

"The younger players will be key for the next World Cup cycle, so we have to look at the squad to find a balance. We have a lot of young players with potential and as you know the next cycle includes the Women’s Gold Cup and all those games that we will be playing," he reasoned.

"So, it's a good to start getting those players involved from now in international competition because we won't always get the English-based and European-based players for those games. We have to broaden the pool of players and make sure other people are getting a chance to see what the international stage is like," Donaldson ended.

Shericka Jackson knows that her many fans in Jamaica and around the world hold her to high regard each time she touches the track. But as an athlete who has had her fair share of ups and downs throughout a now sizzling career, Jackson is also aware that there are those that stand ready to badmouth her when things don't go according to plan.

It is for that reason why the reigning 200m world champion and the second-fastest woman of all time over the distance, unburdened herself of the high expectations from others by virtue of focusing on her mental health, while trusting her body and coach.

"I am not a person who cracks under pressure in terms of what people expect of me. I know what I am capable of, coach knows what I am capable of, and I think we are a good combination to achieve what I want to achieve, it is just for me to stay focus," Jackson said.

"I said this before, I think 2021 Olympics when I never made it in the 200m, I think that broke me mentally and I had to go back to the drawing board and know that people will talk but you just have to focus on the goals that you want.

"It took the hard way for me to actually learn that, but coach and I have been working on things. Mental health is very important to me so definitely, I try to stay grounded as best as possible, if I feel like I'm not in it for training on any given day, I go to coach and talk to him or I go to a therapist. So, I am grounded right now, I am happy, and I am definitely looking forward to great things," she added.

Jackson's declaration followed another electrifying performance over 100m, as she clocked a meet record 10.78s at the Racers Grand Prix inside the National Stadium last Saturday.

The margin of victory and the fact that Jackson had a slight stumble close to the end of the race, underlines the impressive form she currently enjoys, and the 28-year-old believes she is on course to possibly achieving more than she did last year. 

This, as she reflected on the fact that she didn't hit the 10.7s mark until late June last year when she won the national championship.

"I think I made a little misstep at the ending of the race which I think coach and I will definitely go back to the drawing board about because it happened last year at the World Championships, and it happened at the trials. So, coach and I will figure out how to correct those, but I am super excited, 10.78 at the early part of June, I can't complain," she said.

"I wanted to run 10.75 but I said OK then I'll take 10.78, I actually wrote it down on a piece of paper because coach and I talk about writing what you want to achieve and tell yourself that it is achievable, so this time early June I am super excited for the season," Jackson, who has a personal best of 10.71s over 100m, noted.

Having clocked 10.73s for the 100m silver medal in Oregon last season, Jackson is no doubt highly motivated to better that performance and secure her first World Championships 100m title, as well as to successful defend her 200m crown.

The 21.45s she ran to win the gold medal in Eugene, Oregon, was a new national and championship record. Only Florence Griffith-Joyner of the USA (21.34s) has run faster.

"One of my aims is to make it at the 100m because I already have a mind for the 200m. So, I am definitely motivated, I do not have a 100m World Championships title and that is one of my goals this year to achieve, it's just for me to stay focused.  

 "I am confident, and I am healthy once I stay healthy anything is possible.  I know I definitely can go faster, and I am working to go faster so it's just to stay focused," Jackson reasoned.

Though her spot in the 100m for the August 19-27 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, seems safe, Jackson stressed the need for an efficient execution at upcoming National Trials.

"I just want to run a solid 100m at the Jamaica trials because anything can happen, so I just want to ensure that on the day of competition I am ready and focused. So right now, it's just to work on certain aspect of the race," she ended.

Despite dipping below the 45-second barrier for the first time in his career, Antonio Watson remains undecided about which event he will attempt at the upcoming National Trials in his effort to make Jamaica's team to the World Athletics Championships later this year.

In fact, Watson pointed out that the breath-taking performance at the Racers Grand Prix on Saturday, where he stopped the clock in a massive personal best of 44.75s to win the men’s 400 metres ‘B’ final, indicates one of two things –either he will be sticking with the one-lap event or is gradually rounding into form to produce something special in the 200m.

The former Petersfield High standout, whose previous 400m best was 45.78s, has already placed his 200m personal best of 20.52s, clocked almost three years ago, on notice with a season's best of 20.73s achieved in March. 

"Time will tell. I am still young, and I still have a lot to learn in both events, so I am just working to be a better athlete," Watson said in a post-race interview at the National Stadium.

"People always say the one lap is my strong suit but I still have love for the 200m, so I am undecided at the moment. However, this 44.7 could mean one of two things, either I will be sticking to the 400m or just getting better for the 200m," he added.

The 21-year-old who is currently training at Racers Track Club, under the tutelage of decorated coach Glen Mills, says he has been training hard this season to deliver something special at the Racers Grand Prix, so it came as no surprise that a massive lifetime best was the end result. 

He crossed the line ahead of Roshawn Clarke of Swept Track Club, who also clocked a lifetime best of 45.24s, while Assinie Wilson of Titans International Track Club also produced a PB of 45.51s for third.

Watson is one of only three Jamaican males to have dipped below the 45-second barrier so far this season.

Sean Bailey at 44.43s, which is the sixth fastest time so far this year, heads the pack with Zandrion Barnes, who also clocked a big personal best of 44.90s at the Racers Grand Prix, being the other.

"Coach told me that the field is good so I should just do what I have been doing throughout training and the time will come. The execution was properly done in my eyes, I just went out there and did what coach told me to.

"It's a great feeling to know that I am now among the top Jamaican athletes this year, so I just want to keep doing my thing," Watson noted.

Given his renewed mindset and obvious maturity, there is no denying that Watson, a former World Youth 400m champion and Youth Olympic 200m silver medallist, possesses enough ability to make the World Championships cut, regardless of which event he chooses.

"Time has changed and I have grown, I've been working hard, and I have been on a high from the season started, so it’s just about staying motivated as I go forward," he shared.

Still, execution on the day will determine whether or not he makes it to Budapest, Hungary for the August 19-27 World Championships and Watson is very much aware of that.

"National Trials is a part of the plan, so I just have to keep working and come out, match up to the field and do my best on the day. Time will tell (which event I will do or the end result) so I will just keep going one day at a time," Watson ended.

 

Mount Pleasant Football Academy and Cavalier Football Club will meet in this season’s Jamaica Premier League (JPL) final, following victories over Arnett Gardens and dethroned champions Harbour View in their respective second-leg semi-final encounters at Sabina Park on Sunday.

The St Ann-based Mount Pleasant FA, which was formed in 2016 and earned promotion to the nation’s top-flight league in 2018, got by Arnett Gardens 3-1 for a 5-3 aggregate win to secure their spot in the JPL showpiece for the first time, while 2021 champions Cavalier blanked Harbour View 2-0 for a 3-0 aggregate scoreline.

Trivante Stewart with goals in the 33rd and 40th minutes, that took his tally to 18 this season, and one Shande James (86th), got the job done for Mount Pleasant, after Deandre Cunningham gave Arnett Gardens a 15th-minute lead.

Meanwhile, Collin Anderson (12th and 57th) got both goals for Cavalier against Harbour View, to regain top spot as the league’s leading scorer with 19 goals.

After playing out an entertaining 2-2 stalemate in first-leg action last week, Mount Pleasant and Arnett Gardens wasted little time to pick up from where they left off.

While the Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore-coached Mount Pleasant dominated proceedings, it was the Paul “Tegat” Davis-conditioned Arnett Gardens that drew first blood, against the run of play. 

Cunningham picked up a pass from Rushike Kelson and rifled a right-footer past Shaquan Davis in goal for Mount Pleasant.

Given the nature of the game, it was almost certain that Mount Pleasant would hit back and that they did three minutes past the half-hour mark when Stewart muscled his way past a defender to fire past Eric Edwards.

And Mount Pleasant broke the deadlock seven minutes later when Stewart with a deft first touch, created space to turn and drive a well-struck effort that gave Edwards no chance at a save. 

The momentum stuck with Mount Pleasant on the resumption, and they should have extended their lead in the 71st but Devonte Campbell, who had time and space in the 18-yard box to pick a spot, failed to finish off a good team build up.

Try as they did, Arnett Gardens had no response to the quality displayed by Mount Pleasant on the day, and almost as if throwing salt in their wounds, it was a former “Junglists” James that capped the win with a tidy finish from just inside the arc.

 Winning coach Whitmore lauded the character shown by his team in executing accordingly.

 “We were totally in control of the game; we managed the game very well the opponents scored on us but the team showed character and guts and went on to win it. We played this Arnett Gardens team four times, so we looked at their threats and we nullified that, it is just about going into the final now to deliver a title to our owner,” Whitmore said.

His counterpart Davis admitted that they were outclassed.

“They just played a better game than us and they won. We just didn’t come out and play, they were quicker to the ball, their ball movements were better, and they won,” Davis declared.

Cavalier entered their second leg contest with a 1-0 lead over Harbour View and given the defensive nature of both teams, not many goals were expected on this occasion. 

With Harbour View pressing to play catch up, Cavalier capitalized and pushed further ahead when Anderson rose above defender to head home Adrian Reid’s weighted cross. 

With the scoreline unchanged at the break, Harbour View came out more purposeful after the interval and almost pulled on back, but Vino Barclett got down well to his right, to keep out Colorado Murray’s 56th-minute effort from a distance. 

But Cavalier responded a minute late with a brisk counterattack that saw Shaneil Thomas playing Anderson through on goal, and the striker sporting the number nine jersey, dismissed his marker, before driving past Romario Palma in goal for Harbour View.

Harbour View tried to play their game in an attempt to overturn the deficit, but it was not to be as they found Cavaliers defenders in defiant mode.

‌Mojito expectedly produced a devastating performance to claim the 49th running of the Jamaica 2000 Guineas, a native-bred three-year-old Futurity race for colts and geldings, over a mile (1,600m) at Caymanas Park on Sunday.

Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Richard Azan and ridden by reigning champion jockey Dane Dawkins, Mojito again underlined his credentials as the best among his lot at the moment with this, a fifth-straight win on the trot, in his seven-race career. His other two runs were second-place finishes.

Having won the Prince Consort over seven furlongs (1,400m) by 5 1/2 lengths, in 1:26.2 and, The Kingston by 15 lengths in a flat 1:33.0, over seven and a half furlongs (1,500m) on his way to the Guineas, it was a matter of how far Mojito would romp the $3.75-million Classic event.

The answer was a resounding 12 ½ lengths in a time of 1:37.2, behind splits of 24.1, 46.3 and 1:10.3.

Running from post position number two in the nine-horse field, Mojito left the gates well but suffered early traffic problems and, as such, was relegated to the back of the pack.

However, room opened up on the inside rails which Dawkins gladly accepted and soon joined Awesome Anthony (Javaniel Patterson) on the headline at the six-furlong point.

When Dawkins gave the signal, Mojito made big move and took the lead heading toward the five and later slipped away by three lengths leaving the half mile.

The gap widened coming in the stretch and Mojito continued to power away from rivals with Dawkins barely moving a muscle.

Money Miser (Reyan Lewis) was second with Ability (Linton Steadman) and Rhythm Buzz (Anthony Thomas), completing the frame.

Given the manner of his victory, Mojito is now heavily favoured to secure Triple Crown honours with the 12-furlong Jamaica Derby and 10-furlong St Leger to come.

Azan, who along with Alexander Haber, bred and own Mojito, is already rating the grey colt among the top horses he has conditioned in an illustrious career.

“I said he is one of the best because I have trained some really good horses so now he ranks up there right with them,” Azan said in a post-race interview.

“To be honest, I was a little worried at first but the jockey knows the horse very well, I was actually surprised that he went so quickly to the lead but then he relaxed after that and you know the rest was history. It is just about maintaining him from here because we still have two-more races to go for the Triple Crown,” he added.

Meanwhile, leading rider Reyan Lewis topped his peers with three wins on the 10-race card. He won the opening event aboard Carl Anderson’s Tocatbetheglory, the fourth aboard the Phillip Feanny-conditioned Inspire Force and the seventh race with Life Is Life, trained by Jason DaCosta.

The overall performances may not have been polished as Michael Reid would have liked, but the Jamaican gymnast did achieve a significant milestone at the recently concluded Pan American (PanAm) Artistic Gymnastics Championships, which he hopes will serve as another catalyst to promote the sports growth locally.

Reid’s original skill performed on the pommel horse at the event in Medellin, Colombia, was accepted in the FIG Code of Points and saw him joining Caleb Faulk –who achieved the feat last year on the high bar –as Jamaicans to have etched their names in the annals of gymnastics scoring history.

But while the American-born Reid, who has been representing Jamaica since 2016 welcomed the historic achievement, he was more delighted about the attention it will bring to the island and, by extension, the efforts of the Jamaica Gymnastics Association (JAGA).

Reid only took on the pommel horse and parallel bars where he scored 11.933 and 12.467 for a total 24.400.

“It wasn't the overall result I wanted, but it provides indications of what I need to work on in training for the rest of the season. That said, I am extremely happy and proud of my new skill, it has always been my dream to have a skill in the code, but I think doing it for Jamaica makes it even more important,” Reid declared.

 “President Nicole [Grant], the JAGA board and all of the senior team members, old and new, have been working hard to build Jamaican gymnastics from the foundation up.

“They have been showing local kids that they can shine and be great in the sport, especially on the biggest stages and have paved the way for them to have even greater successes. So, as happy as I am for myself, I am even happier for Jamaica’s gymnastics,” he added.

For Reid, getting the skill, a travelling backward hop over both pommels, into the FIG Code of Points, somewhat signals a changing of the tide where the dominance of the more illustrious countries is concerned.

“The Gymnastics Code book is full of skills named after Europeans, Asians and American athletes, but there were zero Jamaican skill creators until Caleb created the "Faulk" (a high bar dismount) and we have a second skill the "Reid" on pommel horse. 

“So now among the Bretschneiders and Li Ningd, there is also Faulk and Reid. Even after Caleb and I retire, our skills will be in the gymnastics Code of Points forever claiming space for Jamaican athletes. I am proud of the effort and sacrifices that went into making it happen,” Reid noted. 

The 30-year-old was not shy to admit that it took grit and stubborn determination to attain his current successes, as he reflected on the 2022 season which was lined with highs and lows.

Reid explained that he had to perform the great balancing act of coaching NCAA gymnastics at the US Naval Academy with his commitment to representing Jamaica. 

 “I had to learn to be very efficient in my workouts and with my recovery. The physical side of it wasn't a problem, but there were a lot of mental struggles with being in the gym 8-10 hours each day and still having to put out quality workouts,” the three-time NCAA All-American shared.

“So, it took a real mental shift to make it work and it also taught me that I need to focus more on enjoying the performance side of pommel and showing off the work that I have done. It took a whole year, and a dislocated finger to get it ready for competition, and everything is now falling into place which tells me that I still have more to give to this sport,” Reid stated.

And more Reid intends to give, as he has his sights set on the Paris World Cup with hopes of securing an historic podium finish.   

“I do have another skill I want to present on Parallel Bars, but that is going to have to wait. My focus now is a medal for Jamaica. Paris is the next chance for that and beyond that, I would love to do anything I can to continue the growth of gymnastics in Jamaica,” Reid ended.

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