What you need to know:
- With approximately a month to the global competition, Malkia Strikers have shown great improvement in reception, blocking and back court defence at their training base in Brazil.
- The two months training camp in Brazil is courtesy of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) Volleyball Empowerment Programme.
The national women’s volleyball team has stepped up its preparations in Sao Paulo, Brazil with the FIVB World Championships slated from September 23 to October 15 in Netherlands and Poland fast approaching.
With approximately a month to the global competition, Malkia Strikers have shown great improvement in reception, blocking and back court defence at their training base in Brazil.
The two months training camp in Brazil is courtesy of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) Volleyball Empowerment Programme.
The general expectation within the volleyball fraternity in Kenya is that Malkia Strikers will finally break the ceiling by qualifying for the second round at a global competition.
Kenya is in Pool ‘A’ alongside eternal rivals Cameroon, hosts Netherlands, European and Volleyball Nations League (VNL) champions Italy, Belgium and Puerto Rico.
On paper, it looks like a tough pool but going by the impact of the Brazil training camp as envisaged by the score lines in over eight friendly matches, the current team can make history in the Netherlands.
Head coach Luizomar de Moura, who was also in charge at the Tokyo Olympic Games last year, will be encouraged by the stiff competition for places in the team with youngsters Belinda Barasa and Veronica Adhiambo stepping up.
Setter Emmaculate Nekesa is showing maturity beyond her age, star opposite attacker Sharon Chepchumba is enjoying the form of her life while captain Mercy Moim, Noel Murambi and libero Aggripina Kundu remain evergreen.
There is a realistic chance that Kenya can beat Cameroon at the World Championships with the three-time back-to-back African champions having lost influential trio of Laetitia Moma, Christelle Nana and Stephanie Fotso.
Cameroon finished fourth at the recently concluded Islamic Solidarity Games after losing to eventual winners Turkey 3-0 in the semi-finals.
Coach Jean Rene Akono was using the tournament to gauge his charges and he now knows the quintet of new captain Simone Bikatal, Estelle Adiana, Emelda Piata, Yolande Amana and Iza Ambassa have to lead from the front for a decent performance in the Netherlands.
The absence of Moma, Nana and Fotso is a blessing in disguise for Kenya who only need two wins to be among the four teams from Pool ‘A’ that will proceed to the second round.
Kenya will need to produce their ‘A’ game to get a second win with little-known Puerto Rico the next beatable opponent.
Puerto Rico are fresh from losing 3-1 to Croatia in the semi-final of FIVB Challenger Cup last month. Croatia went on to beat Belgium 3-1 in the Challenger Cup final and qualify for next year’s VNL.
However, it would be foolhardy for Kenya to assume they can easily beat Puerto Rico who pushed Dominican Republic, fresh from an eighth place finish at the Tokyo Olympics, to a 3-2 (25-22, 15-25, 25-17, 21-25, 15-12) result in the final of North & Central America and Caribbean Championship last year.
Outside hitters Stephanie Enright, opposite Brittany Abercrombie and middle blocker Ortiz Neira were in great form at the FIVB Challenger Cup.
The trio alongside experienced setter Valentin Natalia and libero Shara Venegas will form the spine of Coach Fernando Javier Lopez’s side in Netherlands.
Malkia Strikers clearly have their work cut out as they fine tune for the World Championships but with the current progress, the second round looks a realistic target next month.