How Malkia Strikers humbled Cameroon
Of all the incredible recent comebacks by Malkia Strikers, Friday night’s 3-1 (12-25, 25-15, 26-24, 25-21) victory over Cameroon in Rabat, stands out as one of their greatest achievements.
It was sweet revenge for Kenya, who had lost their last two continental finals (African Nations Championship in Yaoundé-2017 and Cairo-2019) to the top-ranked West African side and desperately needed something special to end the finals jinx against their newfound rivals.
And it’s coach Paul Bitok’s prowess and substitute left attacker Sharon Chepchumba’s brilliance that inspired Kenya to victory.
This was the second meeting between the two giants in less than a week after Malkia Strikers won their Group B match 3-1.
The wild celebrations on the court after Violet Makuto’s spike claimed the fourth set summed up how delighted and relieved the players and the technical bench members were to reclaim their bragging rights as well as stamp their authority on continental volleyball again.
Coming off a painful 3-2 African Nations Championship final defeat to Cameroon in Egypt a month ago, there is some respect for Paul Bitok and his resilient players for the incredible achievement.
Bitok appears to have turned around the team’s fortunes barely three weeks after replacing Italian coach Shailen Ramdoo.
“That’s a huge win for us. I highly commend the team for their comeback in the second set. That was a great show of mental composure and strength from the team. Playing against an opponent twice is not easy, especially if your second meeting is the final,” Bitok said.
“Nonetheless, our team was tactically and mentally prepared to repulse any challenge from Cameroon. The win in the second set rejuvenated the team, we fought bravely and it paid off in the end. I am grateful for the efforts of all the players, the bench and technical staff.
“Indeed, the results from the tournament have been due to team effort, we hope to replicate this in other future tournaments.”
Unlike the previous finals, there was more than passion on display in the encounter that no neutral spectator wanted it to end.
Cameroon capitalised on Kenya’s basic errors to win the first set, but they started huffing and puffing after the introduction of impressive youngster in Sharon Chepchumba for Violet Makuto in the second set.
Chepchumba’s spikes were too powerful for the Cameroonians as she inspired a tactical Bitok’s side to blow away the African champions.
“I am glad to have made great impact from the bench and win my first ever continental title with the senior team. I came on when the team was under a lot of pressure, but I am glad my instincts inspired confidence in my teammates,” Chepchumba said.
The fourth set needed some magic. And like real champions, Malkia summoned character, rallying from 9-15 to win the decisive set 25-21.
But what was possibly stunning was the fact that the left attacker, Christelle Nana, who was unstoppable, somehow ended up on the losing side.
Malkia Strikers are expected back in the country tomorrow at 2pm.
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