Relief as Malkia Strikers finally leave for Brazil

Malkia Strikers players Meldina Sande, Edith Wisa and captain Mercy Moim

From left: Malkia Strikers players Meldina Sande, Edith Wisa and captain Mercy Moim at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on June 25, 2022 before leaving for Brazil for High Performance Training in preparation for World Championships set for September 23 to October 15.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • As Nyaberi gave his farewell message to the team, the girls smiled helplessly.
  • Mozzart Bet came to the rescue of Kenya Volleyball Federation last Friday when they sponsored the Malkia Strikers to a tune of Sh10 million, part of those funds used to facilitate this trip.

On a chilly Saturday night at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, the relief was palpable from a distance, a few hours before Malkia Strikers boarded the flight to Brazil.

Draped in white Mozzart Bet-branded hoodies, the Kenya women national volleyball team stood out at Terminal 2 as other travelers checked in. They had been made to wait for Nation Media Group’s crew to cover their departure but this was not going to be anything out of the ordinary. At least our arrival didn't take long, only 15 minutes thanks to free-flowing traffic on the usually busy Mombasa Road. 

Aggripina Kundu

Malkia Strikers libero Aggripina Kundu at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on June 25, 2022 before leaving for Brazil for High Performance Training in preparation for World Championships set for September 23 to October 15.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

Waiting is what these girls had done all week. First for their air tickets, Covid-19 tests then the visas. Initially planned to jet out last weekend, they could now rest easy with their trip to Brazil now a reality.

As KVF Deputy President Charles Nyaberi gave his farewell message to the team, the girls smiled helplessly. Their wide grins were a photographer’s dream only that lighting was a challenge but one that the experienced Chris Omollo calmly navigated through using the flashlights from our phones.

Malkia Strikers

Malkia Strikers players pose for a group photo at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on June 25, 2022 before leaving for Brazil for High Performance Training in preparation for World Championships set for September 23 to October 15.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

“It’s normal in this team to face challenges but this has been worse,” skipper Mercy Moim perfectly captured the relief among her team mates. “You see, we have had to pack and unpack all week. It’s been very challenging because one moment you feel you are prepared to leave then another moment you feel totally unprepared,” explained Moim her travel documents in her hands.

“Like today morning it was 80 percent confirmed then we were told that our flight was moved to (Sunday) 1am. So we are happy that at long last we are travelling. We want to thank our sponsors Mozzart Bet for everything and promise that results will follow. We are focused on making it to the second round (at World Championships) and that journey starts today,” promised Moim, who was pained by the prospect of being away from her family for almost three months.

Malkia Strikers

Malkia Strikers players pose for a group photo at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on June 25, 2022 before leaving for Brazil for High Performance Training in preparation for World Championships set for September 23 to October 15.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

Paul Bitok’s charges will train in Brazil for two months before travelling to Serbia to face the world champions and Colombia in friendly matches thanks to Mozzart Bet which also sponsors these two teams.

From there, the team will travel to Netherlands for the World Championships slated from September 23 to October 15.

A visibly relieved Bitok couldn’t hide his joy saying Kenya had taken a bold step into the future through this trip to Brazil that will usher in a new generation to the national team.

“As a coach I am relieved because this training is one of a kind. We have gone for youth and this group is the future of Kenyan volleyball. If we can blend this group together for two to four years then Kenya will be at a very good level internationally,” said Bitok, who will quit coaching for administration after the World Championships.

“This is the best preparations we will have in a long time and the good thing is that we will play a lot of build-up matches. This is good for us because the team will have a chance to correct our mistakes in training and get used to game situations early enough,” he added.

Paul Bitok

Malkia Strikers coach Paul Bitok at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on June 25, 2022 before leaving for Brazil for High Performance Training in preparation for World Championships set for September 23 to October 15.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

One of the rookies in the team is KCB middle blocker Magdalene Mwende, who in only her first year as a professional volleyball player is already an African champion. This is after KCB won the Africa Clubs Championships title in Tunisia last month.

“I am so happy,” she begun before a long pause as she struggled to compose herself. “I am happy to be going out with the national team on my first call up and I want to take advantage of this opportunity to learn as much as possible. I’m sure I will not be the same player (after this camp). I want to give my best to make it to the final squad,” remarked a beaming Mwende.

Nyaberi cut a relaxed figure as the girls finally got their clearance and made it past the first check in point. After the last player on the queue, Sharon Chepchumba had trudged into the waiting bay, he could finally give an interview. He expressed his gratitude to Mozzart Bet but was quick to call on the government to cater for the team’s allowances.

“We are grateful to Mozzart Bet since this team would not be leaving tonight if not for their support. We are not as fully equipped and facilitated as we would have liked but at least the girls have left. This is just Phase 1 of this project and we will continue to pursue the government to support this team with allowances so that their stay in Brazil is comfortable.

“We remain grateful to FIVB for this rare opportunity and are confident that the girls will show we deserved it with an improved performance at the World Championships,” offered Nyaberi, who was accompanied by KVF Deputy Treasurer Moses Mbuthia at the airport.

Malkia Strikers outside hitter Yvonne Wavinya

Malkia Strikers outside hitter Yvonne Wavinya is all smiles at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on June 25, 2022 before leaving for Brazil for High Performance Training in preparation for World Championships set for September 23 to October 15.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

Malkia Strikers will connect to Brazil through Doha, Qatar with the Brazilian coaches led by Luizomar de Moura set to take over preparations of the team in Sao Paulo for a period of two months as part of FIVB’s Volleyball Empowerment Programme.

"I am happy we have young players in the team because this is good for continuity. They have to grab this chance to improve their game and not rely on us seniors to play all the time. Everybody has a chance to prove to the coaches that they deserve to be in the team so they have to work for it," Moim read the riot act.

One team, One mission indeed!

Traveling squad

Outside hitters - Noel Murambi, Mercy Moim, Meldine Sande, Yvonne Wavinya and Veronica Adhiambo

Middle blockers - Edith Wisa, Belinda Barasa, Gladys Ekaru, Lorine Chebet and Magdaline Mwende

Opposite attackers - Violet Makuto and Sharon Chepchumba

Setters - Emmaculate Nekesa and Veronica Kilabat

Liberos - Veronica Makokha and Aggripina Kundu

Coach - Paul Bitok, Assistant coach - Japheth Munala

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