- The team arrived in Cameroon a week ago
- They open their campaign against Rwanda
- The tournament counts for points towards Olympic Games qualification
National women’s volleyball team Malkia Strikers will start their Africa Women’s Championship campaign against Rwanda, the same opponents they floored by straight sets in their final warm up match in Yaounde, Cameroon on Tuesday.
Malkia have been drawn in Group B and will also take on Uganda, Morocco, Burkina Faso and Lesotho.
The team will face off with Rwanda barely 24 hours after the two sides locked horns in a build up match in Yaounde, in which the team won by straight sets.
Coach Luizomar de Moura’s charges won in sets of 25-14, 27-25, 25-14 in a match they largely dominated apart from the second set.
The Brazilian tactician had trusted skipper Mercy Moim to lead hard-hitting duo of Sharon Chepchumba and Veronica Adhiambo, Edith Wisah, Belinda Barasa and setter Emmaculate Nekesa to start, a line-up that he has stuck with in most of the matches he has taken charge this summer.
The Rwandese were no match for the Mozzart Bet-sponsored top-ranked African side, going down 25-14 in the first set.
Kenya was, however, dealt a blow in the second set when 2022 Africa’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) in club championships, Chepchumba was taken off with an injury scare, having twisted her foot awkwardly.
Youngster Simiyu stepped up to fill the void
With youngster Loice Simiyu stepping up to fill Chepchumba’s place, the Rwandese took advantage of Malkia Strikers’ setback, as the worry of their teammate being sidelined with a serious injury was evident in their eyes, to run the scores and go nine points ahead.
Moura also made two more changes, bringing in Africa Club Championships best blocker Trizah Atuka and teammate Leonida Kasaya. Kenya ate into Rwanda’s lead one point after another as they went on to reclaim the lead and win 27-25.
In the third set, Lorine Chebet was also introduced albeit sparingly, leaving only three players out of action in Malkia’s final friendly match, and the only one in Cameroon, even as the team won the set 25-14 for a straight-sets victory.
“From Morocco all the way to Yaounde, preparations have been good. From today’s friendly, I am confident that the squad is ready and this win gives us confidence,” assistant coach Paul Bitok offered after the match.
Chumba out for three days
“With Chepchumba likely to miss the opening fixture and maybe action for three days we are hoping not to go up against any big challenges in her absence.
“We have, however, been preparing for such an eventuality as this is part of sports and I am impressed with how Simiyu performed after settling in. We also have several other players who can switch positions if need be able to adjust,” Bitok explained after the team’s friendly.
The team is looking to reclaim the title it last won in 2015 and will face a massive competition from hosts Cameroon, against whom they have lost the last three finals consecutively.
The tournament will also be crucial as it counts for points towards qualification for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.