What you need to know:
- Malkia Strikers will draw positives from the third set where they went toe to toe with Japan as their star player Sharon Chepchumba emerged top scorer with 18 points
- Lorine Chebet replaced Ekaru in the third set and the change sparked Kenya back to life as they pushed Kumi Nakada's charges all the way
Kenya Sunday began their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games campaign with a 0-3 (15-25, 11-25, 23-25) loss at the hands of hosts Japan.
Malkia Strikers will draw positives from the third set where they went toe to toe with Japan as their star player Sharon Chepchumba emerged top scorer with 18 points.
Japan's Ai Kurogo and Mayu Ishikawa scored 13 points apiece.
Under the guidance of a new-look technical bench led by Brazilian Luizomar De Moura, Kenya fielded a familiar first six of Mercy Moim, Leonida Kasaya, Edith Wisa, Jane Wacu, Gladys Ekaru, and Chepchumba with Aggripina Kundu taking charge of the libero duties.
Ishikawa was impressive for Japan as they raced to a 8-6 lead at the first technical timeout, 16-11 at the second before winning the set at 25-15.
Coach Moura kept faith in his starting six for the second set but there was no stopping the Japanese who led 8-3 at the first technical timeout, 16-9 at the second and comfortably clinched the set at 25-11.
Lorine Chebet replaced Ekaru in the third set and the change sparked Kenya back to life as they pushed Kumi Nakada's charges all the way.
Japan led 8-6 at the first technical timeout before Kenya cut their lead to only one point at the second interval 16-15. Despite Kenya leading 23-21, individual mistakes from Wacu, Kasaya and Chepchumba gifted Japan the set at 25-23.
Japan head coach Nakada Kumi, who as a player led Japan to an Olympic bronze medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, was full of praise for Kenya after the Malkia Strikers almost nicked the final set.
“Since we last played against Kenya some years ago, I see a lot of improvement in the team,” Kumi said.
“Previously, Kenya relied on individual stars, but now, there’s a semblance of teamwork which almost led to them beating us in the third set,” the coach said after the match that lasted one hour and 19 minutes.
Kenya next play South Korea on Tuesday.