What you need to know:
- The Kenyan girls are in a tough Pool ‘A’ alongside hosts the Netherlands, European champions Italy, Belgium, continental rivals Cameroon and Puerto Rico
- ‘When I won the battle against Covid-19, it’s like God gave me another chance to live. Kenya will be part of my life forever because they gave me an opportunity to do what I love and what I’m passionate about — that is coaching’
Luizomar de Moura has fond memories of the “most important phone call” of his life.
It arrived from a familiar person only that it came unexpectedly. The message was what made it special given that he had just won a long battle with Covid-19 at his Sao Paulo base in Brazil.
On February 26 last year, International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) President Dr Ary Graca informed Luizomar that he had been identified as the man to spearhead Kenya’s women’s national team preparations for the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as part of the Volleyball Empowerment Programme project for that year.
“I had just come from one of the toughest moments because I had to fight for my life every day. Fighting Covid-19 was a nightmare not only for me but also for my family. This call was a gift from God since it came the same week I had been discharged from hospital,” recalls Luizomar.
Dr Graca and Luizomar had worked together before when the former was President of Brazilian Volleyball Confederation (CBV) but this assignment was special for the then 54-year-old coach.
"When I won the battle against Covid-19, it’s like God gave me another chance to live. Kenya will be part of my life forever because they gave me an opportunity to do what I love and what I’m passionate about — that is coaching,” said Luizomar, who twice led Brazil girls’ team to the World Under-18 title in 2005 and 2009 during Graca’s reign as CBV President (1997-2012).
The pandemic he had fought so hard returned to haunt him as he got down to work with the Malkia Strikers.
According to his training programme, the team was to have a three-month camp in Brazil prior to the Tokyo Olympics but ultimately they couldn’t travel to Sao Paulo due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Luizomar had to prepare the team in Nairobi and go to the Olympics. Kenya lost all its matches, but there was a difference.
“Right from the beginning, we were received so well by the Kenyan people and felt part of Malkia Strikers. This good relationship makes this project so special to me. We had little time to prepare but we tried to make the best out of it. When we started the project, the volleyball community took note of Kenya’s potential through their improved performance at the Olympics and felt a lot more could be done to raise their level,” said Luizomar who got the Olympic rings and Tokyo Olympics logo inked on his right arm to commemorate his Tokyo experience with Kenya.
The stars aligned this year for Luizomar to continue his love story with Kenya when FIVB Volleyball Empowerment Commission decided to carry on with the Kenyan project ahead of the World Championships set for September 23 to October 15 in the Netherlands.
Not only did the team camp in Brazil for two months but also played over 10 friendly matches. Malkia Strikers are currently in Serbia, courtesy of sponsors Mozzart Bet, to play two more friendly matches in preparation for the global competition.
“Last year we only had the opportunity to train but couldn’t play friendly matches to analyse how prepared the team was. The friendlies have given us a lot of data to work with and prepare better for the World Championships. Our first priority (in Netherlands) will be to perform better than we did in Tokyo then work on improving our ranking,” offered Luizomar who also won the World Under-20 women title with Brazil in 2007.
Kenya will launch their Pool ‘A’ campaign against the Netherlands on Friday before taking on European champions Italy, perennial rivals Cameroon, Belgium and Puerto Rico. Luizomar insists that Cameroon and Puerto Rico are beatable.
“For Kenya to improve they have to play regularly at high-level competitions which is dependent on their ranking. We have to identify who our real opponents are and be fully prepared when we face them,” Luizomar told Nation Sport yesterday in Belgrade, Serbia.
Luizomar’s hand has been evident in the team selection with the veteran tactician naming youngsters Belinda Barasa, Emmaculate Nekesa, Veronica Kilabat and Veronica Adhiambo in his final 14-member squad for the World Championships.
“Brazil has a great school of volleyball and it was important that the young players experience this. The Brazilian school has picked various characteristics from other schools of volleyball like technique from Japan, strength training and data analysis from USA. We have taught these young players the Brazilian way but three months of preparations is not enough for a young player before a major competition,” explained Luizomar.
“It’s a process and the Kenyan volleyball community needs to unite and create a good environment for the players to continue to develop. We need to form a strong league and build proper structures to help these players since they have the right attitude to work.”
Looking back at his stellar career as coach that has seen him churn out star players for Brazil, he reckons that Kenya is on the right track.
“My proudest moment in my career is not winning medals or trophies but developing players. For 15 years I worked with the youth teams in Brazil and made these players Olympic champions. My dream even with Kenya remains to create champions on court and great human beings out of it,” asserted Luizomar, who won the 2012 World Club Championship title with Osasco Volleyball Club.
His second appearance at the World Championships as coach comes exactly 20 years after he finished seventh with Brazil as assistant coach in 2002. Luizomar is eager to guide Kenya to the second round for the first time in history.
“I have been talking to Kenyan players and promised them that if we advance to the second round, then I will get a tattoo of one of the Big Five (animals) to remind me of the whole journey we have had,” said Luizomar who refused to reveal which part of his body his gift to the Kenyan people will be inked.
Blessed is the hand that giveth…it’s a gift most Kenyans will gladly take if Kenya breaks the ceiling at their seventh time of asking at the World Championships.