Kenyan beach volleyball teams’ work cut out to qualify for Paris Olympics

Gaudencia Makokha

Gaudencia Makokha in action during a past match.

Photo credit: Pool

Kenya’s historic appearance in beach volleyball at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games remains a landmark moment.

Although the pair of Brackcides Agala and Gaudencia Makokha lost all their Pool “D” matches in Tokyo, qualifying for the quadrennial competition was a major achievement. Their journey to the Tokyo Olympics was as fulfilling as their debuts.

Not least because they upset favourites and hosts Morocco in the semifinals of the CAVB Continental Cup before beating Nigeria 2-1 in the final to punch the ticket to the Japanese capital.

Three weeks from now, the crème de la crème of African volleyball will converge on the coastal city of Tetouan in Morocco for the 2024 CAVB Continental Cup, which will double up as the qualifiers for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

And just like in the previous edition held in Agadir, Morocco 2021, the winners in both gender categories will be Africa’s sole representatives at the Paris Olympics. Kenya (women) and Morocco (men) represented Africa in the Tokyo 2020 edition, and they will head to Tetouan hoping to replicate their 2021 heroics.

Stiff competition

Kenya will once again face stiff competition from reigning African Games champions Doaa Elghobashy and Marwa Abdelhady of Egypt and Morocco’s Imane Yakki and Nora Darrhar. Mozambique’s Ana Paula Sinaportar and Vanessa Muianga would have been potential contenders in the women’s category, but they will skip the qualifiers due to the former’s school commitments.

In the men’s competition, Gambia, Egypt and Mozambique will look to challenge Morocco’s Mohamed Abicha and Zouheir El-Graoui for the sole ticket reserved for Africa. The pair will be gunning for back-to-back appearances at the Olympic Games on home soil.

While Morocco’s Abicha and El-Graoui have maintained their partnership since 2021, the same cannot be said of Kenya’s women’s team, partly because of a knee injury that Agala has since recovered from.

A lot has happened since their Olympic Games debut in Tokyo. Agala and Makokha no longer play together, with the latter having reunited with her old friend Naomi Too in the latest KVF beach volleyball stop held earlier this month, while the former has forged a formidable partnership with the seasoned Phoscah Kasisi.

Too’s return is a welcome boost to the national team, given her vast experience on the sand and impeccable backcourt defence. However, she presents a selection headache for head coach Salome Wanjala, who had paired Makokha with Yvonne Wavinya for the Zone Five qualifiers for the Continental Cup held in Mombasa last December.

Residential training

With Agala also returning from injury, Wanjala has to decide who will play alongside Makokha in Tetouan. It’s worrying that three weeks before this qualifier, the provisional squad is yet to be named, and the team is yet to report to camp for residential training!

It’s not lost on anyone that Egypt’s Doaa and Marwa are in rich form, having topped the Zone Five qualifiers last year before convincingly winning the African Games title in March in Accra, Ghana. Last weekend, they took part in the Beach Pro Tour Futures event in Battipaglia, Italy, under the watchful eye of their Italian coach, Nicolangelo Antonicelli.

Even though they lost all their Pool “B” matches to USA’s Madison Shields and Avery Poppinga and Italy’s Viktoria Orsi Toth and Valentina Cali, the Egyptians faced quality opponents and are a step ahead in terms of preparations.

Similarly, Morocco’s Yakki and Darrhar defeated Cubans Kailin Garrido and Mileidy Paret 2-1 (21-18,19-21,15-11) in the final of the second stop of the Morocco national tour held last weekend at the Martil beach in Tetouan. The thrilling final lasted almost an hour.

To underline their resolve to qualify for the Paris Olympics, Egypt and Morocco have scheduled two stops of their national tours in June to fine-tune their teams for the Continental Cup.

Historic performance

If the quality of preparations by Egypt and Morocco is anything to go by, then Kenya has their work cut out in the women’s competition. It will take another historic performance for Kenya to qualify this time round, and you have to feel sorry for the players and coaching staff who did their part in December by qualifying for the Continental Cup well ahead of time.

Three weeks is certainly not enough to prepare for a Championship of this magnitude, but I’m certain the girls will give their all in Tetouan. Whether that will be enough to qualify, remains to be seen, but Kenyans will be cheering them from home and praying endlessly for a miracle.

The odds don’t favour Kenya in the men’s competition either. Gambia has pitched camp in Qatar under FIVB coach Mounir Ghellaimi courtesy of the transformational FIVB Volleyball Empowerment Programme for almost a year.

Mozambique have been training hard in Sao Paulo under Brazilian coach Alexandre Pontel. The pair of Osvaldo Mungoi and Jose Mondlane has also featured in local circuits in Brazil as part of their preparations for the Paris Olympic qualifiers.

Egypt’s Atef Nassif and Youssef Ismail also featured in the qualification round of the Beach Pro Tour Futures event in Battipaglia, Italy, while Morocco’s Abicha and El Graoui are in good form, having won the first two stops of Morocco’s beach volleyball circuit back-to-back. Kenya men’s team coach Patrick Owino could take solace in the fact that he does not have a selection headache with Elphas Makuto, Jairus Kipkosgei, Brian Melly and Edward Kibet all expected to make the final squad.

However, just like Wanjala, he will bear the brunt of poor preparations and will most likely head to Tetouan hoping for a miracle.

Beres Hammond’s lyrics in his hit song "Come Down Father" might just come in handy for us all next month as we pray for the Paris Olympics miracle for our beach volleyballers. Let’s start practising:

Come down, Father, come down Come down, Father, come down Oh, I beg you, come down, Father, come down, yeah, yeah Come down, Father, beg you, come down

Gacharira is a freelance journalist and sports consultant