Julie Rodrigue and Kara Zakrzewski win gold at NORCECA beach volleyball stop

Elliott and Saxton add silver in men’s play

GUATEMALA CITY - Julie Rodrigue of Quebec City and Kara Zakrzewski of Mississauga, Ont., won the gold medal on Sunday in women’s competition at the fourth stop on the NORCECA beach volleyball circuit.

It is the first victory for the pair since they joined forces at the end of last season.

“Kara and I still can’t believe it,” Rodrigue told Volleyball Canada on Monday. “We beat a very strong team and really went in there without any expectations. It’s a very special moment.”

Rodrigue and Zakrzewski defeated top-seeds Nirian Sinal and Kirenia Ballar of Cuba 21-16, 15-21, 15-13 overcoming an 11-13 deficit in the third set. They opened the day with a semifinal victory over Costa Ricans Ingrid Morales and Natalia Alfaro.

“We really stayed focused,” said Rodrigue. “We never worried when we were trailing. We just concentrated on the next play. Our serves were the key late in the third set. We knew we had nothing to lose and we really forced our serves. That put them off balance and we turned the tables on them.”

“I still can’t believe it,” added Zakrzewski, on her Facebook page. “What a great way to start the season. We came back to win (thanks to some) some clutch serving and cheers from the crowd.”

Rebecca Moskowitz of Toronto and Eve Marie Dansereau-Laberge of Verdun, Que., placed fifth.

It was also a great weekend for Jessi Lelliott of Kelowna, B.C., and Ben Saxton of Calgary who won the silver medal on the men’s side. They lost the final to Karell Pena and Sergio Gonzales of Cuba in straight sets. In the semifinal the Canadians beat Dany Wilson and Mark Lewis of Jamaica.

“The loss stings a lot, we really wanted to come here and win this tournament,” Lelliott told Volleyball Canada. “Still it was good to make it to the final and we beat some strong teams on the way. We didn’t serve aggressively enough against the Cubans. They are both big guys and great jumpers and hit high and hard. We didn’t play our best match.”

One of those big victories was a 21-18, 18-21, 15-10 upset of top-seeds Michael Bruning and Jason Wight of the U.S., on Saturday.

All three Canadian entries here are scheduled to compete at the first stop on the FIVB World Tour circuit later this month in Brasilia, Brazil.