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Women nail it in volleyball as men recoil in defeat

KENYA @ 50
By By OSCAR PILIPILI | December 25th 2013

By OSCAR PILIPILI

KENYA: The history of Kenyan volleyball dates back to the early days of independence when leading clubs were dominated by Kenyans of Asian origin. One such club was Orientos, which was headed by Mahandru Khan as chairman. He doubled up as head of the national federation. Orientos dominated East and Central Africa between 1972 and 1974, winning most of the trophies on offer.

The landscape of Kenyan volleyball started changing when the first national team was formed in 1972.

The formation of this team saw indigenous players like Paul Nzuki, who was the first captain. Their first international assignment was an invitational tournament played in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia the same year.

Nzuki remembers with nostalgia that then Minister of State Mbiyu Koinange, who was patron of the team, offered a military Buffalo plane from Moi Air Base (then named Kenya Air Force) to fly the team to Addis.

None of the players had boarded a plane before. “We departed from Eastleigh and stopped at Moyale for refuelling before we proceeded to Addis,” Nzuki who is chairman Kenya Volleyball Federation Southern branch, recalls.

“The Buffalo dropped us in Addis and returned to pick us one week later,” he says.

The tournament was organised as one of the events to mark Independence Day of Ethiopia, and Kenya lost against the Haile Selassie Body Guards team 2-3 sets in the final.

The Kenyan team had also its fair share of players from the military, among them Major General Suero of Kenya Air Force and Mohora Juma of Kenya Navy.

From here, the national men’s team started gaining ground and their maturity was proven when they beat Uganda during a Jamhuri Day celebrations event at City Stadium, Nairobi in 1975.

Volleyball men continued to flourish (the women’s version of the game did not exist until 1983) and more invitational tournaments were hosted at Bomas of Kenya.

Game’s challenge

Local volleyball would then develop the two national teams for the 1987 Fourth All African Games staged in Nairobi.

While it was easy to come up with the men’s team because there was an existing squad, the biggest challenge was coming up with the women’s.

Most players who formed the pioneer national team were from Kenya Prisons netball team.

At the All Africa Games, the two teams were well prepared to face the challenge of continental greats. Playing before home fans at Bomas of Kenya, the Kenya men lost against experienced Cameroon in the semi finals while the home girls clinched silver behind eventual winners Egypt.

The All Africa Games was the turning point for local volleyball. For men, it was the road to darkness and for women, to prosperity. The pioneer women’s team revenged against Egypt when they silenced home fans by clinching gold during the 1991 All Africa Games in Cairo.

This victory gave Kenyan women a strong impetus to dominate African volleyball both at national and club levels. Since the 1991 achievement, Egypt has never beaten Kenya at continental level.

World cup

It is also important to highlight that Kenya has represented Africa in big events such as the Olympic Games, the World Championships and the World Cup. The 2014 FIVB World Championship African Qualifiers are expected to be staged in Nairobi in January and the home team is expected to perform well before local fans.

At clubs level, Kenyan teams have ruled the continent. First there was Posta, then came Kenya Commercial Bank, Kenya Pipeline and now Kenya Prisons are the latest new kids on the block.

Prisons have won African Clubs Championships five times, including four in a row.

They have represented the continent four straight times in FIVB World Club Championships since 2010.

Although they have never won a match in the global arena, the qualification alone underlines their pedigree as a great African side.

So where are the men? This team has never won a continental trophy.

The team is currently engaged in the ongoing 2014 FIVB World Championships African Group Q Qualifiers in Rwanda.

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Editorial Cartoon 25.12.2013
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