NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 27 – Kenya booked a second straight ticket to the under 23 World championship after they beat Rwanda 3-1 (25-23, 23-25,25-22, 25-19) in a decisive match on the last day of the Africa Volleyball championship that ended Thursday at the Kasarani Indoor stadium.
The last time Kenya took part in the worlds was three years ago in Mexico.
But the junior Malkia Strikers will be on flight again in August next year as Africa representatives alongside Egypt after they finished second behind the Pharaohs in the five-nation championship that also attracted Botswana and Senegal.
Kenya needed to beat Rwanda, a side coached by Kenyan Paul Bitok, himself a former national team head coach and captain. Bitok last coached Kenya in 2011 at the World Cup in Japan.
Just like Rwanda, Kenya started with their strongest possible squad with Veronika Kilabata starting ahead of Faith Imodia as the setter while Yvonne Wavinya,Ann Lowem, Yvonne Sinaida,Celestine Nyongesa and Damaina Kamaina making the starting six.
Paul Bitok once again gave captain Mukatambara Saraphine the starting role alongside Musaniwabo Hope,Uwicyeza Delphine,Niyigana Grace,Uwimbabazi Lea and Mutamba Olive.
And after close to one hour delay of the start of the match, Kenya welcomed the loyal fans who had been kept waiting for this clash when the host pulled the first trigger to take a 1-0 lead. Rwanda responded immediately to level the score before the host took a 4-2 lead.
Rwanda would them catch up with them at the eighth service but diagonal attack and a poor service by Olive allowed Kenya some breathing space to open two points lead at 7-5 and a 8-6 at the first technical timeout.
Two poor catches by Were and Marina propelled Rwanda to an 11-9 lead before Marani gifted the visitors with additional point from a poor service.
Kenya’s catches failed to click as Rwanda cruised to a 15-11 lead forcing coach Catherine Mabwi to call for the first time out. The pep talks did not help much as Rwanda took a three-point lead into the second technical timeout.
With Kenya trailing 13-16, Mabwi brought in Pauline Wafula in place of Sinaida and the captain led from the back, scored four consecutive points from the service including an ace to help Kenya tie the scores 20 ups only to seal the opening set 25-23 thanks to Irakoze Balyse error.
The second set had its own share of drama and despite the host taking a slim lead, Mabwi’s side suffered a major blow after Wavinya was pulled out of the court after she twisted her last-left finger.
She was replaced by Edna Mwombe, sister to Esther Mwombe of Kenya Prisons. But the changes did not work for Kenya who blow away four points lead to allow Rwanda level the scores 18 ups before losing the set 25-23.
Wavinya shook off the pain in the third set but a tactical Bitok neutrolized the newly graduated Prisons Wardress with his fielding which strategically positioned her captain Seraphine directly opposite Kenya’s most lethal attack but at the back court to deal with her attacking ball whenever Wavinya was infront. Kenya though extended their advantage to two after wrapping the third set 25-22.
The fourth set was a bit slow, possibly a result of players burn out seen in the first three sets but Kenya took advantage of the slow pace to cruise to a 25-19 which wrapped the world ticket.
Kenya joined Egypt who booked an early ticket to Slovenia after winning their fourth straight match, this time, again Botswana who finished third above Senegal who came bottom of the five nation championship.
Egypt rounded off their outing in Kenya in style after beating Botswana 3-0 (256,25-10,25-19) to finish top with 12 points.
The north Africans finished unbeaten, only dropping a set against Kenya whom they beat 3-1 (18-25,25-23,25-20,25-18).
Egyptian Ahmed Aya finished the match as the best scorer with five spikes and four balls in addition to a dig. Botswana failed to contain Egyptian defence which also saw Ahmed Marian blocking five dead balls from 15 attempts.
-By Elvis Joshua-