What you need to know:
- Star opposite player Sharon Chepchumba once again led from the front with a game-high 17 points while Sylvia Nwakalor replied for the Italians with 12 points (10 kills, 2 blocks).
- The loss leaves Kenya in position four with three points while Italy go top with 12 points ahead of their last match against hosts Netherlands.
In Arnhem, Netherlands
Kenya’s potential as a future global powerhouse rose to the fore on Thursday here at the Gelredome arena where they put up a brave fight before going down to European champions Italy 3-0 (15-25, 23-25, 16-25) in their fourth Pool A match of the ongoing World Championship.
Star opposite player Sharon Chepchumba once again led from the front with a game-high 17 points while Sylvia Nwakalor replied for the Italians with 12 points (10 kills, 2 blocks).
Malkia Strikers coach Luizomar de Moura rung two changes to the team that thrashed Cameroon 3-0 on Sunday introducing Belinda Barasa and Noel Murambi for Edith Wisa and Mercy Moim respectively, perhaps with an eye for their crunch clash against Puerto Rico on Saturday.
After Thursday’s loss to Italy, Kenya are in position four with three points and need to beat Puerto Rico to advance to the second round. Italy go top with 12 points ahead of their last match against hosts Netherlands.
Italy outscored Kenya in two departments, 42-33 in attack, 27-14 in opponent errors while Kenya picked more points in services (3 compared to 1).
Both teams had five points each from blocks. Luizomar said he was impressed by the input of his fringe players, saying the performance in the second set was a reflection of Kenya’s immense potential in the sport.
“It’s part of the learning process to give these young players a chance to show what they can do. They have been committed since the beginning of Brazil camp and keep proving themselves that they can do better and better,” Luizomar told Nation Sport.
“I am proud of what the team showed today. The team performance was great, we were able to show what we have been working on in training. Facing top teams like this is going to prepare them for bigger challenges in future."
“Team Kenya is showing to the world what they are capable of and everybody is going to prepare better when facing us. It’s going to create more difficulties but we are ready to show Kenyan spirit and fight any opponent.”
His opposite Davide Mazzanti was equally impressed by the spirit in the Kenyan side and backed them to proceed to the second round.
“They had good service and attack. I think if they believe in themselves more, they could cause us more problems,” noted Mazzanti. “It will be great to see them in the second round because they showed a lot of joy during the match. I like to see this a lot in volleyball.”
Mazzanti rested regulars Paola Egonu, Anna Danesi and Caterina Bosetti to help them recharge their tanks for the second round. Kenya took advantage to race to a 3-1 lead in the first set thanks to Veronica Adhiambo’s ace but Italy responded quickly.
Sara Bonifacio’s monster block handed them a 8-5 lead before two kills from Elena Pietrini took them to 11-6. Luizomar called for a timeout but the Italians, having found their rhythm stretched their lead to 15-11 after an attack error from Adhiambo.
Luizomar called for another timeout at 18-12 and it worked as Kenya found a way back to the game through Chepchumba’s serves and attack to trail 20-15. Italy then went on a five-point rally to claim the set at 25-15 after an ace from Alessia Orro.
Both coaches maintained their first six for the second set where they cancelled out each other until 10-10 when Italy’s captain made a kill and scored an ace to hand the VNL champions a 12-10 lead.
Pietrini’s kill moments later made it 13-10 and Kenya called a timeout. Mazzanti’s charges maintained their three-point lead until 23-20 when Luizomar made a crucial change.
Yvonne Wavinya, who was on the team sheet as field player for the first time in this tournament, replaced Barasa and her services made the difference. Two kills from the impressive Chepchumba and an attack error from Pietrini saw Kenya level the game at 23-23.
“I am so happy for my teammates because today we fielded junior players and they showed that Kenya can beat big teams in future. Reception was good and many other things worked well for us. If we continue like this we will surprise many people here in this competition,” said Chepchumba.
It took textbook setting from Orro to leave Nwakalor unmarked at position 2 and she made no mistake to deliver the set point for Italy.
Nwakalor, who started in place of Egonu at opposite, once again scored from the back row with a clever tip to end Kenya’s hopes of bagging a set.
“It was very important to be in court and show what I can do. Kenya gave us a good challenge because they served, attacked and defended very well. We train together with our senior players and learn a lot from them. That's why we did well under pressure. I am so grateful to them,” said Nwakalor.
Kenya matched the Italians in the early exchanges of the third set and even led 8-7 before status quo was restored. Nwakalor’s twin blocks on Adhiambo helped Italy lead 10-8. Malkia Strikers attempted a mini-revival to close the gap to 12-11 but Pietrini’s monster block on Chepchumba opened a three-point gap at 15-12.
Nwakalo provided the match point with a back row attack and a net fault from Ekaru saw Italy bag the set 25-16.
Kenya takes on Puerto Rico on Saturday to decide who gets the last qualification slot for the second round.
Italy, Belgium and Netherlands are all through to the second round from Pool A.