In the heart of Blantyre, Malawi, there is a sense of anticipation as the city hosts the 2023 Africa Cup for Club Champions Tournament (ACCC).
Among the teams representing Kenya are Lakers Hockey Club from Kisumu and the Blazers Hockey Club from Nairobi, each carrying the hopes and dreams of a nation hungry for continental glory.
The Lakers, a team with a storied history, arrived in Malawi on Thursday after a grueling bus journey.
Determination etched across their faces, the players are aware of the challenge that awaits them.
Their adversaries, the Delta Queens of Nigeria, Scorpions, and Genetrix, lie in wait in Group A.
Lakers, having finished joint third in the 2022 edition in Nairobi, are eager to improve their standing and showcase their prowess on the continental stage.
The Lakers' journey had been a rollercoaster in the previous edition.
They kicked off the tournament with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against former heavyweights Blazers (formerly Telkom), setting the tone for what would be a captivating campaign.
A resounding 5-0 walkover win against Kada Queens of Nigeria injected confidence into the team, but challenges loomed ahead.
A pivotal 2-0 victory over Ghana Army Ladies displayed the Lakers' resilience, yet a 4-1 loss to champions GRA Ladies served as a stark reminder of the competition's unforgiving nature.
The Lakers rebounded with a sweet 1-0 revenge win against Strathmore Scorpions, who had previously defeated them in the local league.
The tournament concluded with a goalless draw against Delta Queens, leaving Lakers tied for third place with the Nigerian side, separated only by a cruel goal difference.
As Lakers prepared to face Delta Queens once again in the opening match of the 2023 edition, goalkeeper Millicent Adhiambo spoke with unwavering determination.
"We've learned from our experiences in 2022. As a team, we know what it takes to win, and we're ready to give our all. This time, there will be no room for missed opportunities. We're here to make Kenya proud," she declared, her words echoing through the team's collective spirit.
Meanwhile, the Blazers, representing Nairobi with pride, touched down in Malawi via flight, showcasing the contrasting journeys of the two Kenyan representatives.
Their opening match against Kada Queens loomed large, promising a spectacle of skill and strategy.
The Blazers found themselves in Group B alongside champions Ghana Revenue Authority, Kada Queens, Capital Braves from Malawi, and their fellow Kenyan counterparts.
A successful campaign in Malawi could elevate them to new heights and add another chapter to Kenya's hockey legacy.
As the Lakers and Blazers geared up for their opening matches, the stage was set for a thrilling tournament that would undoubtedly captivate the hearts of fans across the continent.