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Kenyan juniors fall short

NAIROBI, September 20 – Following the success of the Olympics team and Harambee Stars’ good run in the World Cup qualifiers, the national junior women volleyballers were hoping to continue the trend at the Africa Junior Volleyball Championships in Nairobi.

But the hosts finished third behind Egypt and Tunisia thus missing out on a chance to compete in next year’s World Junior Volleyball Championship set for Mexico.

“It’s unfortunate that the players didn’t play well and lacked concentration. I believe we lacked experience to match Tunisia and Egypt who dominated the championship,” the under 18 head coach, Paul Bitok observed.

Kenya which last appeared at the World junior tourney in Poland in 2002 has been on the same level with the North African nations giving us as good as they got in previous events.

But it was not the case to be at this year’s championships.

The local girls started the continental campaign on a strong note dismissing Seychelles with a 3-0 win of 25-20, 25-15 and 25-23 in the opening game.

The hosts lost the second match 3-1 in sets of 25-19, 27-29, 25-22, 25-20 to the experienced Egyptian side in a game played cautiously as the championships entered its second day.

Kenya’s hawk eyed libero, Jacinta Nafula who was outstanding at the back court with her good reception of balls could not help the front line to stop the heavy spikes from the North Africans.

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Kenya bounced back to win their third match 25-19, 25-23 and 25-18 over a ruthless Senegalese side to revive their chances of winning the championship.

It was not the case to be for the hosts who failed to stop losing jinx against the North Africa nations following the 3-1 humbling by Tunisia in a tense match.

Kenya was forced into making mistakes to give the visitors bonus points as Tunisia’s hard hitting duo of Sassi Nadia and Aggrebi Rahma continued to punish the host’s defense that was lacking in concentration.

“We lacked rhythm, focus and experience to handle the opposition that forced us into making mistakes hence throwing away easy points,” a disappointed Evelyn Makuto said.

Unlike the hosts who had no established players from the league, Egypt and Tunisia had most experienced players from Al Ahly, Zamalek and Elshams and who have already played in the World Championships.

Kenya needs to create time and plan early for such tournaments to enable the players be exposed tactically by playing more friendly matches.

“Our opponents had a month to prepare in camp unlike us who had only five days and the education system is not compatible with our plans for the competition since they were in the national school  competitions two weeks ago,’’ Bitok said.

Despite the junior women finishing third, Kenya’s team captain Evelyn Makuto was named the best spiker of the tournament while Tunisia’s Hibachi Faten was voted the best server. Egypt’s Nahla Sameh was named the most valuable player of the tournament.

Gtari Fatma of Tunisia was the best libero ahead of Kenya’s Jacinta Nafula while Tunisian Ben Yuossef Sonia was named the best server as Egypt’s Esraa Tarekwas the best receiver of the championship and Mena Allaha of Egypt voted the best setter of the tournament.

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If the local girls had experience and exposure, most of the titles won by the North African nations could have been tightly contested.

From the record, the highest level most of the junior girls had played before the event kicked off was at the secondary school championships in Kigali, Rwanda two weeks ago.

While some believe the recent secondary school ball games were a good training ground for the local girls, it was later discovered to have low standards compared to the experience in the Egypt ranks.

“We have talented players across the country. The emergence of Nelly Tiete and Rose Magoi(Cheptil captain) though still green is a precursor of good things to come but they need to learn how to contain pressure and change the course of the game,” Catherine Mabwi,the assistant coach said.

The government and other stakeholders need to put more effort in primary and secondary schools and advancing college level so that talent is identified and nurtured so well for the country to dominate at the international level.

“Having watched the game here it leaves no doubt that Kenya is the best team. With sufficient preparation and available resources through the Kenya Volleyball Federation, they can become the stars of Africa if well managed,’’ Assistant Minister for Sports, Kabando wa Kabando said.

For the sport to thrive higher ahead of important tournaments and before the 2012 Olympics, players need to be tracked through the Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA), connect well with sports officers at the District level and KVF in managing it.

“With proper kitting, motivation, inspiration and technical know-how, talent can be tracked from the grass root thanks to the well managed volleyball federation.’’ Mabwi said.

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