NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 20 – The national women’s volleyball team Malkia Strikers leave the country on Thursday evening for Japan ahead of the FIVB Women’s World Championship which serves off across six hosts cities September 29.
The team will proceed for a week-long training camp in the Japanese city of Kobe to fine tune their readiness for the world showpiece before travelling to their competition city Hamamatsu.
The team has been in residential training for the past two months and head coach Japheth Munala says they feel ready to go and conquer the world with their eyes fixed on at least getting to the second round.
“Everything has been okay and the little injuries we have had have all healed. We have done enough training from June with minimal problems and we feel that all we have put in is enough to take us at least to the second round,” Munala told Capital Sport.
Malkia Strikers are in Pool D alongside 2014 bronze medalists Brazil, European giants Serbia, Kazakhstan Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The top four teams from the six-team pool will progress to the second round.
The team is confident that they can be able to maneuver and win against at least three teams and book a spot in the second stage.
“If you look at Kazakhstan, Dominican Republic and probably Puerto Rico, those are teams that we can say probably we are on the same level. We played against them when we participated in the Grand Prix and looking back at that experience, we can beat them,” Munala said.
His words were echoed by setter Jane Wacu who was also part of the team that represented Kenya in the last World Championship also held in Japan in 2010.
“To be very honest, Brazil and Serbia are teams that we cannot match. They are way superior than us and their experience cannot be compared to us. But Puerto Rico and Kazakhstan are two teams that we can fight off with and win. If we do our best and play to our highest levels, I have no doubt we will be in the second round,” the setter who has had professional stints in France and Seychelles said.
The last time Kenya participated in the World Cup, they ended up not earning even a single set and finished bottom of the six team pile.
But looking at the team now, Munala feels they are in the best of shape to fight and improve on that performance.
“We will get sets and wins, rest assured. We have worked hard in training and improved on our reception, blocks and back court defense which were some of the weak areas we had,” Munala offered.
His sentiments were shared by Wacu who added; “In 2010, we didn’t have much experience but looking at the team now, I can say we are better. We have two new girls in the team who played in the African Championships and they bring in a lot of positives in the team. They have very good height and have made the team stronger.”
“Reception and defense were our weak areas but now, we are way better. We have improved a lot,” she added.
Over the last week of training, the team upped their program by playing men’s teams in their friendly games and surprisingly won one against Strathmore men while they lost against the Kenya Prisons thrice.
But despite the losses, head coach Munala says the games have given them a tougher edge as they have been able to play against tough opposition which puts them almost on the same level with the tough European teams they will face in Japan.
Skipper Mercy Moim says the friendly games have been more than helpful to the team.
“They have really helped us because when for example we play against Prisons, we say that is Brazil, when we play against Strathmore, we say that is Serbia. They are hard hitting just like the teams we will face and so it has given us a lot of experience and courage,” Moim said.
Wacu who missed two weeks of training with a finger injury which needed a minor surgery also insisted it was more than vital to play the men’s teams, but notes that in future, the government should play a vital role to help the teams play European or even North African opponents as build up.
“You see, teams like like Cameroon are training in Brazil and they play the likes of Italy in friendly matches, They are gaining more than us. If we play against the local women’s clubs here at home, it is not good because we know each other very well and competitively, we don’t gain,” she noted.
“At least when we play the men’s teams, it is better because they give us almost the same intensity as the likes of Serbia, Brazil etc. But in future if we can get to even play the likes of Egypt, Cuba or even Cameroon, it will be better for us,” she added.
After their week long training in Japan where they will play friendly matches against local clubs, the team will proceed to Hamamatsu where they serve off their campaign against Kazakhstan on the opening day of the championship, September 29.
They will face Serbia the day after then Puerto Rico and Brazil before finishing up their pool campaign on October 4 against the Dominican Republic.