What you need to know:
- Next target for up and coming Pipeline player is a Malkia Strikers call-up
- CAVB’s premier club competition starts in Tunisia next week.
- Four Kenyan teams will compete in the men’s and women’s events to be held in Tunis and Kelibia respectively. In this week-long series, Nation Sport writer Samuel Gacharira takes us behind the scenes to reveal how coaches and players of the four clubs are preparing for the continental tournament
“It’s a dream,” Magdalyne Chemtai concedes, shaking her head before grinning. “I still can’t believe it. If you asked me then, I wouldn’t predict that I would come this far,” adds the Kenya Pipeline number one.
Almost a decade ago, Chemtai depended on volleyballs made of nylon paper woven together to fuel her passion for the game. At Cheptais Primary School, where she stumbled upon her talent, they only had one official volleyball that was only available when their games teacher-cum-coach Patrick Siyoi was around to monitor its usage.
Many are times Chemtai and her fellow pupils volleyed their paper balls over the worn-out net at school.
“We only had one ball at school so we used it sparingly to avoid it getting worn out. It was only available three days a week during Games time. We relied on the paper balls to keep us going on the other days, I was very good at making them,” she said with a chuckle.
“They couldn’t even bounce well but they were playable. That’s what mattered to us, we just wanted to play and have fun,” added the 21-year-old.
Even in her wildest dreams it never occurred to her that she would become a dependable player of a top Kenyan club. However, her childhood coach Patrick Siyoi says Chemtai was a “fast learner” and the “magnet” that pulled other pupils to the volleyball court.
“We are neighbours so I knew her family had tall people. Her father (Nickson Maasai) used to play volleyball although not professionally. I wasn’t surprised therefore that Chemtai learnt the basics quite fast. She used to make the paper balls and this sparked the interest in volleyball among other pupils. During the stipulated days when they got to play the official ball, she was always the first one to come for the ball at the staff room,” recalls Siyoi.
“She had great potential and many secondary schools wanted to offer her scholarships when she completed her primary school education. I think (multiple Kenya Secondary Schools champions) Kwanthanze did well to nurture her talent and I’m not surprised by how far she’s come,” noted Siyoi.
“Her next stop should be the national team because she’s still young and is on the right track.”
Indeed, when Kenya Pipeline line up at Africa Club Championships in Kelibia, Tunisia next week, Chemtai will be among the players to watch. She has started all of Pipeline’s local league matches this season with the Oilers amassing six points from four matches played across three legs. Pipeline coach Paul Gitau is impressed by the development of “one pillar of the team” as he continues his rebuilding project.
“When I came here she was a middle blocker but when I saw her arm swing and reception in training I decided to convert her to an outside hitter. I’m happy she took it positively and is always eager to learn. She’s got a bright future if she maintains her discipline and focus,” said Gitau.
Chemtai’s path to the Pipeline first team wasn’t a bed of roses. She’s had to work extra hours to claim a place ahead of experienced players like Gaudencia Makokha.
“When I got here I met so many senior players, who have played in the national team, so I knew I had to work hard to be in the first six. At club level, volleyball is really different and more demanding than at high school so I had to adapt to that first,” said the SA Kolanya Girls Secondary School alumnus.
“I’m happy I found supportive teammates, our captain (Rose) Magoi has really been helpful especially when I changed my position. It was challenging in the beginning because I was used to fast balls and now I had to play long balls. We used to have extra training sessions on weekends where she would set long balls for me. Those free attacks have really helped me to improve my timing and execution,” revealed Chemtai.
After making her debut against Nairobi Water, Chemtai starred in the 3-0 thrashing of Nairobi Prisons in the local league as Pipeline made a perfect start to the season.
“Coach Gitau has really been supportive. He is a great motivator, treats all of us equally and brutally honest with every player. I’ll forever be grateful to him because the decision to change me from middle to left has really worked well for me,” said Chemtai who lists Sharon Chepchumba as her idol.
Her first encounter with the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) and Malkia Strikers star on court saw the bankers emerge 3-1winners during the second leg of the league. An identical 3-1 loss to defending champions Kenya Prisons last month constitutes her learning curve in her break-out season.
“Even though we lost, those two games were eye openers for me. I played against national team regulars and managed to match them. There is no big difference between us, it’s just that they have been around for longer and have big names,” said Chemtai.
Buoyed by their performances against KCB and Kenya Prisons, Chemtai believes Pipeline can take African Clubs Championship by storm next week.
“We have had good preparations and I believe we have what it takes to do well. If we play as a team and keep the fighting spirit we showed against KCB and Prisons then anything is possible,” said Chemtai.
Gitau is confident the vastly improved Chemtai will be a revelation in Tunisia.
“She is one of our key players because she can score from any position on the net. She also has good reception and back court defence. We will be relying on her a lot in Tunisia,” predicted Gitau.
It was put to her that she is now ripe for the national team but Chemtai concedes she is not yet the finished product.
“This year my target was to get into the first six at my club and I’m happy I have achieved that. I am now working on pipe attack and services with a view of joining the national team next year,” Chemtai replied cogently before revealing another side of her outside the court.
“I value education so much that’s why I left Kwanthanze for Kolanya in Form Three. My grades were suffering and I had to do something,” said Chemtai.
“I’m planning to pursue a diploma course in Criminology. I’m in the process of identifying a college with a flexible schedule that will allow me to juggle between volleyball and school. It’s a course that I’ve always wanted to study since I was in primary school.”
Another dream worth living!