How Junior Starlets are balancing training and studies in camp

Junior Starlets

Kenya's Under-17 girls team Junior Starlets received a heroic welcome from Sports CS Ababu Namwamba after touching down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi on Monday from Ethiopia.

Photo credit: Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Junior Starlets are just 90 minutes from clinching a ticket to the Fifa U-17 World Cup.
  • Nigeria and Zambia are also well placed to punch their tickets to the Dominican Republic.

With a historic Fifa World Cup ticket beckoning, members of Kenya’s U-17 girls' national team are juggling two balls in the training camp.

The Junior Starlets, comprising secondary school students, have for months been delicately balancing studies and training.

The girls have been in training camp since April, preparing for the 2024 Fifa Under-17 World Cup that will be held in the Dominican Republic from October 16 to November 3. 

Kenya will host Burundi at Ulinzi Sports Complex in Nairobi on Sunday, in the return leg of the fourth and final round of qualifiers.

Junior Starlets have one foot in the World Cup following a 3-0 victory over Burundi in the first leg last Sunday at Abebe Bikila in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In the 31-player provisional squad called up by coach Mildred Cheche for the third round fixture against Ethiopia, Madira High School players dominated all positions, starting with goalkeeper Ephy Awuor.

Other players from Madira included Kimberly Akinyi (defender), Brenda Awuor (midfielder), and Valarie Nekesa (striker).

Junior Starlets

Junior Starlets goalkeeper Ephy Awuor during a past training session at Kasarani Annex Stadium in Nairobi.


Photo credit: Pool

The school principal Mildred Senelwa said they have put plans in place to implement remedial classes for the students in the national team to bridge the learning gap occasioned by their absence.

"It is the first time the players have been out for two months, which has been challenging for us," said Senelwa.

The principal said the school always encourages the students to carry their books while on national duty.

“All the footballers at my school are on scholarships. Fortunately, we do not have any candidates in the Starlets squad. The players receiving national team call-ups are great representatives of our school. The achievements boost the morale of their fellow students," said Senelwa.

Mildred Cheche

Under-17 girls’ national team head coach Mildred Cheche conducts a training session at Dandora Stadium in Nairobi on May 7, 2024.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | NATION Media Group

According to the principal, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) has also indicated that it will support the girls in making up for lost time in school.

“Upon returning to school, they will have remedial programmes under supervision and will also have additional hours in a day to catch up," said Senelwa.

Butere Girls High School in Kakamega County has three players in the Starlets squad, namely Brenda Nechesa (defender), Halima Imbachi (midfielder), and Joy Angela Valencia (striker).

Similarly, Butere Girls High School from Kakamega County is represented by three players – Brenda Nechesa (defender), Halima Imbachi (midfielder), and Joy Angela Valencia (striker).

Kobala Girls and Nyakach Girls were each represented by two players, while Wiyeta Girls, Brenda Girls, Dagoretti Mixed, St. Alfreda Alara Mixed, Magunga Girls, Archbishop Njenga Secondary, and Sunflower Junior High School had one player each.

In addition to the secondary school players, players from Talanta Hela and Chapa Dimba are also part of the team.

Speaking on Monday when he received the team at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) from Ethiopia, the Cabinet Secretary for Sports Ababu Namwamba lauded the schools' contribution to the national team's success.

"A good number of players are students. Schools like Butere, Nyakach, and Bishop Njenga have greatly supported the team. Talanta Hela programmes and the Kenya Academy of Sports have also played essential roles," Namwamba said.

Junior Starlets

Junior Starlets striker Velma Awuor (left) in a tussle for the ball with Burundi's captain Gakima Gloris during the 2024 Fifa U-17 World Cup qualifier in Addis Ababa on June 8, 2024.

Photo credit: Pool

However, even with school work to worry about at the training camp, the Kenyan girls have raised the hope of an entire nation.

Junior Starlets are now just 90 minutes away from clinching Kenya’s first-ever ticket to the Fifa U-17 World Cup.

Nigeria and Zambia are also well placed to punch their tickets to the Dominican Republic after winning the first-leg matches of the final round of the qualifiers.

Nigeria thrashed hosts Liberia 4-1 at Samuel Doe Stadium, while Zambia beat Morocco 3-1 at the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.

Three top teams from the Caf qualifiers will represent Africa at the 2024 Fifa U-17 World Cup, where 16 teams from six confederations will compete.