SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, May 20- The national women’s volleyball team will be out to seek revenge against Colombia when they take to the court Saturday morning in the first match of the World Olympic Qualifiers.
The last time these two sides met was in the World Grand Prix Group Three matches last year with the South Americans running away winners on straight sets.
Head coach David Lung’aho believes despite the loss, Colombia are a beatable side and the team is well prepared to handle them.
“If you look at how we played against them that time, they did not win comfortably. We had plenty of mistakes and they capitalized. They are a team we can easily beat if we maintain our concentration and reduce our mistakes,” Lung’aho told Capital Sport before departing for Puerto Rico.
While Kenya has played twice in the Olympics, in 2000 and 2004, Colombia are seeking a maiden appearance.
They were placed third at the South American Olympic Qualifiers behind Peru and Venezuela, but will be seeking the alternate ticket through the repecharge.
With Brazil already qualified as hosts, Colombia aim to qualify as the fourth team in the South American continent.
However, nine-time African champions Kenya remain confident they can topple the Colombians and begin on the right footing their campaign for a third Olympic qualification.
Veteran setter Janet Wanja is the only player in the current team to have tasted Olympic action before, having been in the 2004 team as a teenager.
Speaking after arriving in Puerto Rico, the 32-year old who just like wine has been getting better with age has tipped the team to make it to Rio.
“We are ready for a very tough game because we know Colombia are no pushovers. We played them last year and we know how strong they are. But our confidence is very high and the morale of the team is high as well because the Government and Federation this time ensured everyone had their allowances sorted. We want to do our best and qualify for Rio,” Wanja said.
The Kenya Pipeline player, voted best in the continent in 2015 missed the African Qualifiers alongside blocker Brackcedes Agala, but the return of the two is set to spur the team to success in Puerto Rico.
The girls are also determined to make amends with Kenyan teams having failed to sparkle in the African Club championship early last month, and an Olympic ticket will be all they wish for before shifting gears to their debut in Group Two of the World Grand Prix.
“We trained well on our arrival, a light gym session and some ball work in the competition arena and everyone is looking forward to a good start. It is a tough call, but we have to rise to the occasion,” Lung’aho underscored.
The head coach has named a blend of youth and experience in his side and among the stars tipped to shine in Puerto Rico is Violet Makuto, younger sister to long-time right attacker Evelyn Makuto.
The left-handed younger Makuto was named best blocker while turning out for Pipeline in the African Club championships and having also led Kenya to an All Africa Games Gold medal in Brazzaville last year, she is expected to play a huge role.
Lung’aho will hope the European experience gathered by setter Jane Wacu, Agala and right attacker Esther Wangeci whilst playing in France will come in handy for the team.
On-form mercy Moim will skipper the side and having helped her club Orpo to a third place finish in the Finnish top tier, all eyes are on her to replicate the same with the national team.
In the second match of the day, hosts Puerto Rico will be banking on home support when they take on Algeria in a 3:10am local time (+3 GMT) serve off.
Algeria finished fourth at the African Qualifiers after losing to Kenya by straight sets but were selected by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) for the qualifiers after Egypt who placed second in the African Qualifiers withdrew.
Algeria head coach Mohamed-Amine Belacel says his team’s major aim in the tournament is not gunning for the Rio ticket but to give his young side international experience.
“We aren’t thinking about qualifying because we will play three experienced teams than us. We will play hard and try and help our players grow with the experience they will gain. The players will definitely benefit from playing these matches and for some it will be a baptism of fire and they will have to step up a level,” Belacel told the FIVB official website.
The matches will be played on round robin basis with the winner flying home with the single ticket to Rio.