What you need to know:
- Step by step, Brazilian coach Luizomar de Moura steered Malkia Strikers through murky waters that took in hard-fought wins against defending champions Cameroon in the semi-final and the tricky Egyptians in the final.
Eight is the golden number! Perhaps, its proximity to the Biblical number 7, that comes with everything good in the Holy book, gave Malkia Strikers the luck they needed it in their quest for a record-extending feat here in Yaounde.
A feat that has kept Kenyan volleyball fans waiting for eight solid years, David Lung’aho having delivered the last African Nations Championship title back in 2015 in Nairobi. It took eight match days to deliver the trophy, 14 players to do the job, eight of them fielded regularly, supported by eight technical bench officials and in the end, a 10th African title is coming home!
They came, they saw and they conquered. Step by step, Brazilian coach Luizomar de Moura steered Malkia Strikers through murky waters that took in hard-fought wins against defending champions Cameroon in the semi-final and the tricky Egyptians in the final.
And after two weeks days of intense, high-level volleyball action here in Yaounde, the CAVB African Nations Championship ended just like it had started, with Kenya on top of Africa in the latest FIVB rankings.
Ranked 22nd in the world with 162.42 points, Malkia Strikers have now been confirmed as the Queens of Africa. There was always going to be one winner given Kenya’s rich quality and depth. The girls can now adjust their crown and wear it with the pride of an African woman, their 3-0 win over Egypt on Thursday here at the Palais Polyvalent des Sports (Paposy) Arena ensuring they have punched an early ticket to Paris 20204 Olympic Games.
Trizah Atuka, one of two remaining members of the 2015 squad that last conquered Africa, was a picture of joy post-match, her return to the national team having actualised her Olympic dream after missing out on Tokyo 2020 due to injury.
“I’m so happy that the dream has come true finally. We have put in the work and the results are here. This victory really means a lot to us who wanted to go to Paris. This is a gift to our sponsors Mozzart Bet, the government, NOC-K, volleyball fraternity back home, our families and fans, FIVB and everybody who has walked with us through this journey,” said Atuka, her face beaming with excitement.
Alongside Edith Wisa, they were tasked with defence, blocking on the net to guide formation of the floor defence. And the middle blockers performed their roles exceptionally well, allowing libero Agripina Kundu to produce dig after dig, Kenya’s massive improvement in defence apparent in every rally of this championship.
“The Brazilian coaches have really helped us improve in defence. They know how to plan for opponents and the training they have given us has helped so many players like myself to perform well in this championship. We have to give them credit because they are always very tactical in their game approach and the execution of our game plan tells it all,” reflected Atuka, who featured in all eight matches as a starter.
“We used to do video analysis before but how they break down the tactics of opponents and articulate our approach has made it easy for us as players. You go to the match with full knowledge of the opponent so it’s just a matter of remembering the coach’s instructions and executing it,” Wisa echoed Atuka’s sentiments.
The well-oiled Malkia Strikers attack has been greatly fuelled by the prolific duo of Sharon “Chumba” Chepchumba and Veronica Adhiambo. While skipper Mercy Moim, who made it to the Dream Team of this tournament, has shown true altruism to concentrate on reception duties, it’s Emmaculate Nekesa who has made this team tick.
Having made her national team debut at the FIVB World Championship last year, the 20-year-old setter has shown maturity beyond her age in Yaounde and Luizomar was quick to single her out for praise.
“We cannot attribute this win to one individual because it’s a team effort. Players like Moim and Kundu have been very committed in reception which has made it easy for Chumba and Veronica to shine in attack. Wisa and Atuka have also been instrumental in defence contributing points through blocking,” noted Luizomar.
“I would like to highlight Emma’s performance. When we started this project three years ago, Emma was a young player but she has really grown through this project. She is now showing that she is a setter who can play at the high level,” Luizomar said of the youngster who was named the Best Setter of the competition.
Chepchumba and Adhiambo, the two professional players in the team, have shouldered the attacking responsibility. The two roommates have been in imperious form despite Chepchumba missing out on the first two matches due to an ankle injury.
“As a professional player, a lot is expected of you. I’m so happy for Veronica because she has really stepped up in my absence. When I returned from injury, I had to repay the favour by performing well. It is my hope that more Kenyan players will take up opportunities to play professional volleyball because it’s the only way to develop. Turning professional gives you exposure to high level volleyball on a weekly basis which helps to improve your game,” advised Chepchumba who emerged Most Valuable Player.
With the Paris Olympics ticket secured and a place in the FIVB 2025 World Championships booked, Chepchumba is keen on Kenya making a mark at the global stage especially especially with the FIVB supporting the team through the transformational Volleyball Empowerment Programme.
“We have nothing left to prove in Africa. We now want to conquer the world and it’s possible. We just need to believe in ourselves because this project has given us good exposure and the team has made massive progress within a short time. We will soon have a first team made up of professional players and with such quality, we can compete with the top countries in the world,” said Chepchumba.
Luizomar concurs: “After this success, we cannot afford to relax. We have to continue working hard to get closer to our objectives of being ranked among the best teams in the world because this is a continuous process.”
The general feeling is that it won’t take long, at least not eight years. Allez les filles!