Malkia Strikers lost their third match at the Tokyo Olympic Games on Thursday, going down by straight sets to three-time European Champions and reigning world champions Serbia. The defeat, though derailing their slim hopes of making the second round, came with a spirited performance.
Just like they did against hosts Japan and Korea Republic, the Kenyan girls ran their opponents close in the first and third sets, a huge contrast of yester years when they would struggle to even get to 10 points.
Malkia lost the opening set 25-21 before slumping in the second and losing 25-11. They however bounced back in a huge way in the third set but came short, losing 25-20.
Despite the loss, the girls were holding themselves in high esteem for their show.
“When we met them at the 2018 World Championships, we could not even get to 10 points. If you look at how we have played during this tournament, it shows that we have really improved as a team. We played better and even scared the teams we were playing against,” Malkia opposite hitter Sharon Chepchumba, one of the standout stars from the team said.
Head coach Paul Bitok was equally happy despite suffering yet another loss.
“It might look like we lost 3-0 but if you look at how we have played and how we have performed, I think we showed that we are a good team and there has been lots of improvement. The only thing is that we didn’t have enough friendly matches to prepare otherwise we would have corrected most of the mistakes,” said the coach.
Chepchumba was once again Kenya’s best player at the game, amassing 12 points while skipper Mercy Moim collected nine for the Kenyan girls.
In the opening set, the Serbians hit four unanswered points, but Kenya steadily grew into the game and narrowed the gap up to within three points with Sharon Chepchumba’s strong spike taking the scores to 13-10.
However, the Serbians once again stretched their lead and by the time they were on the 20-point mark, the Kenyan girls had dropped five points out. Despite reclaiming the three point bridge at 23-20, the Serbians clinched the set with Lorine Chebet’s dig error and Chepchumba sending a jump service out of play.
In the second set, the Serbians were too strong for the Kenyans and led from the start, easily clinching a 25-11 score in just 23 minutes.
But after the break coming into the third set, the Kenyan girls breathed fire and looked set to take the game to the Serbians. They started off on the front foot and led 4-2 at some point, but the Serbians fought to tie the score at 6-6.
Kenya still tried to maintain the lead and did so until they were at 11-10 and the Serbians came level. They didn’t look back and kept the lead to open a four-point gap at 20-16.
They ultimately won the set courtesy of Chepchumba’s dig error and another service that skidded off the court.
Malkia will now face off with Brazil and the Dominican Republic in their last two matches, and their only realistic chance of making it to the next round is if they win both their games.