Golden girls of Kenyan women volleyball ageing gracefully on the court
Kenya’s most decorated volleyball stars can’t just stop aiming higher
Why flamboyant Wanja, Wacu, Agala and other Malkia Strikers veterans are not exiting the scene any time soon.
Just like any other sport in the country, a number of players have ruled the Kenyan women volleyball scene for many years in the recent times.
Love or loathe them, most of these golden oldies will definitely be missed when they eventually hang up their boots.
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And like old wine, the ever-green stars have been getting better with age.
While long serving Kenya Prisons middle blocker Brackcides Agala has been at the top level since making her national league debut with KCB in 2004, the Malkia Strikers quintet of captain Mercy Moim, Janet Wanja, Jane Wacu, Everlyne Makuto and Elizabeth Wanyama have proven that age is just but a number if their performance with both the national team and their respective clubs is anything to go by.
“I believe discipline, hard work and love for the sport is the reason why these players have been in the game for long,” said Kenya Volleyball Federation’s Technical Director David Lung’aho.
It is the same scenario with Kenya Prisons duo of Lydia Maiyo and Salome Wanjala, who have defied age to give youngsters a run for their money.
Name: Brackcides Agala
Age: 36 years
Position: Middle blocker
Club: Kenya Prison
Previous Clubs: VBC Chamalieres (France), Hitachi Rivale (Japan) and KCB
The former long serving Malkia Strikers captain is without doubt one of the oldest active players.
From winning over four continental titles with Kenya and guiding them to the historic 2015 World Grand Prix (Group 3) triumph in Australia before being controversially dropped from the national team, Agala has seen it all in Kenyan volleyball.
Despite all those challenges, the celebrated Kenya Prisons middle blocker is still going strong at the age of 36 as she aims to leave a lasting legacy behind her.
The mother of four has never looked back since making her national league debut with KCB in 2004, two years before earning her maiden national team cap after moving to Prisons.
But it is her success for the club and country that has justified her leadership approach and courage both on and off the court. Going by discussions in volleyball circles, Agala is that type of player every team wants on their side.
Agala, who served as the national team captain between 2009 and 2015, has made several appearances for Kenya at major events including World Cup (four times), World Championship (three), World Club championship (five), Africa Nations Cup (five), All African Games (two), World Grand Prix (three) and Olympic Games Qualifiers.
The former Hitachi Rivale star has so far won five club championship titles with the wardresses between 2008 and 2013, eight national league titles (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2018 and 2019) and four continental titles with Kenya.
While she is best remembered for guiding Kenya to its first ever global silverware when Malkia lifted the 2015 World Grand Prix (Group 3) in Australia, it is Agala’s performance at last year’s national league play-offs that left an egg on the face of national team selectors.
Just when everyone had written her off, Agala popped up at Kasarani Gymnasium to produce an incredible individual performance that saw her win the Most Valuable Player award as well as helped Prisons retain the national league title.
“In sports, age is just but a number and my performance at the play-offs was there for everyone to see. I’m glad my efforts were recognised through the MVP award.
“Of course it has not been easy to be in the game for such a long period, but thanks to my discipline, hard work and putting God first I have managed.
“Though I completed my FIVB Level I and II Coaching Courses a few years ago, I’m still going strong. I can’t tell when I’m going to exit the scene.”
Name: Everlyne Makuto
Age: 29 years
Position: Left attacker
Club: Kenya Prison
Previous Clubs: VBC Chamalieres (France)
The Kenya Prisons left attacker has been a force to reckon with since she spiked her way to the national team, Malkia Strikers in 2009. Just like her retired elder sister Asha Makuto, Everlyne who is still recovering from a knee injury she suffered during last year’s Africa Club championships in Egypt, has more years ahead of her.
Everlyne, who will be celebrating her 30th birthday on August 25, earned her first national team call up way back in 2005 while in form one at Lugulu Girls then captained Kenya at the 2009 FIVB Women’s Junior World Championship before making her senior team competitive debut in the 2011 All Africa Games Qualifiers in Ethiopia.
She has been instrumental at Prisons winning four Continental club championship titles between 2010 and 2013 as well as seven national league titles since joining them from school in 2009 (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2018 and 2019).
Everlyn has also won a couple of individual awards both with the national team and her club including the 2015 African Nations Cup MVP award after inspiring Malkia Strikers to their ninth continental title.
She was part of the Malkia Strikers team that won the historic 2015 World Grand Prix in Australia.
“You must be disciplined, know what you want in life and guard it. But I owe my success to Agala (Brackcides) because she molded me into a great player as well as helped me to stay in the game for a long period. I’m recovering well from the injury and I believe I still have a lot to offer.”
Name: Janet Wanja
Age: 36 years
Club: Kenya Pipeline
Previous Clubs: KCB and APR (Rwanda)
For many years Janet Wanja and the Kenyan Volleyball have been inextricably intertwined.
And having featured for Malkia Strikers in almost all major events (World Cup, World Championship, World Club championship, Africa Nations Cup, All African Games, World Grand Prix and Olympic Games) many considered Wanja the face of Kenyan volleyball.
Her beauty, flamboyance and trademark hairstyle complements her unrivalled commitment and distinguished service to the game.
Despite several individual awards, the loveable Wanja, has twice been controversially dropped with her former captain Brackcides Agala from the national team but she took it all in her stride. She has won five Africa Nations Cup titles, two All African Games and the historic 2015 World Grand Prix title.
While a number of her agemates have either quit the game or transitioned into coaching and management, the 36-year-old Mukumu High alumnus, remains the only active player to have featured in Kenya’s last Olympic Games in Athens 2004.
Though the Kenya Pipeline star missed the qualifiers in Cameroon due to personal commitments, she could be in line for a second Olympic appearance in Tokyo next year.
Wanja, who has spent almost 17 years in professional volleyball, attributes her success and longevity in the game to discipline, hard work and prayers.
But it has not been a walk in the park for the outspoken setter as she has rescinded her retirement decisions a couple of times.
“I’ve been criticised several times and asked to leave the stage for younger players. As much as we want young players, most of them are not working hard to prove themselves. Just because I started playing volleyball early doesn’t mean I am old,” said Wanja in 2017.
“We have proved that age is just but a number. I’ve played in all major competitions, but the feeling and experience at the Olympics is unforgettable.”
Name: Jane Wacu
Age: 35 years
Club: Anse Royale (Seychelles)
Previous Clubs: Kenya Prisons, Kenya Pipeline and VBC Chamalieres (France)
The classy setter Jane Wacu is another true definition of a volleyball legend if her record of achievements is anything to go by.
Although age is not on Wacu’s side, she remains an integral figure for both the national team and her Seychelles club. It is highly probable that the Tetu High School alumnus can still enjoy more success on the court before she calls it quits.
Just like her Kenya Pipeline rival Janet Wanja, the decorated setter has represented Kenya in almost all major competitions (World Cup, World Championship, World Club championship, Africa Nations Cup, All African Games and World Grand Prix) apart from the Olympic Games.
Since making her debut with both Kenya Pipeline and national team in 2006, Wacu has claimed six national league titles with Kenya Prisons between 2007 and 2017, five Continental club championship titles, four African Nations Cup titles with Malkia Strikers and the 2015 World Grand Prix gong in addition to over 20 individual accolades.
“There is no secret to this at all. Just train hard and play your best to win both the matches and the fans. And for you to achieve all this, you must humble yourself before everyone. I’ve achieved everything in volleyball, what is remaining now is to play at the Olympics.”
Name: Elizabeth Wanyama
Age: 33 years
Club: Kenya Prisons
Previous Clubs: KCB
The Kenya Prisons libero may be at the twilight of her playing career, but she still remains a reliable player for both her club and the national team Malkia Strikers.
The 33-year-old Lugulu Girls High School alumnus has proven to be quite a unique player who goes about her work quietly yet provides a lot of energy in the game.
Even though it has been rare to hear Wanyama’s name in the conversations discussing the best players in the country in her 12-year spell at Prisons, her contribution is there for all to see.
She has been invaluable at Prisons, helping them win seven national league titles (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2018 and 2019) and four continental trophies for club between 2010 and 2013.
Wanyama has not looked back since making her first Malkia Strikers’ appearance in 2013.
Apart from winning two Africa Nations Cup titles, she clinched the historic 2015 World Grand Prix trophy in Australia with Kenya.
Despite not getting all the plaudits she deserves, Wanyama, who had a short unsuccessful stint at KCB before switching to Prisons, has claimed a couple of individual accolades including the 2015 Africa Nations Cup best libero award.
“Discipline, hard work, self-belief and following coach’s instructions have been key to my success. In addition, you should know the people you hang around with because there are those whose motive is only but to bring you down.
“My focus right now is on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and not retirement. Everything will come at the right time and I will continue playing as long as my body allows.”
Name: Mercy Moim
Age: 31 years
Position: Left attacker
Previous Clubs: Kenya Prisons, Liiga Ploki, Oriveden Ponnistus (Finland) and Azerrail Baku (Azebaijani)
Known for her powerful spikes, Mercy Moim is arguably one of the most consistent players in the national team since debuting at the age of 15 as Malkia strikers won the 2005 Africa Nations Cup in Nigeria.
The current Malkia Striker captain’s impressive performance in Nigeria earned her a place at KCB where she wrote another piece of history by helping them beat Al Ahly 3-1 to win the 2005 Club championship in Mauritius.
The well-travelled left attacker joined Prisons in 2007.
It was at Prisons where she established herself as a key player, winning five more continental titles with the wardresses (between 2008 and 2013) and eight national league gongs.
But after 12 years away, Moim finally rejoined her childhood club KCB in January just a few months after helping Prisons retain their national league title.
The mother of one inspired Malkia Strikers to multiple titles including the historic 2015 World Grand Prix that came with individual recognition.
“It is a great feeling to have been consistent in the national team since 2007 until now. I’m lucky not to have been dropped from the team. I thank God for everything as well as my work ethic and dedication in training.
“And for you to make it abroad, you must be disciplined and respect the coach,” she says.