Malkia Strikers are the best in Africa, but can they beat global contest jinx?

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Kenyans generally love football, despite the challenges the sport faces. And their other love, athletics, is a sport well associated with Kenya at the world stage, while our rugby 7s team (Shujaa) continues to be our high profile team sport. But no team can match in terms of African dominance the fete by our female volleyballers, The Malkia Strikers. They are the most successful and dominant team in the continent.

Generation after generation, these queens have continued to churn out talent, including Doris Wefwafwa, Nancy Lijodi, Mary Ayuma, Violet Barasa, Dorcas Ndasaba, Janet Wanja, Brackcides Khadambi and Triza Atuka, who have represented the continent at the world championships on numerous occasions. While their performances at the world stage have left a lot to be desired, especially their technical capabilities against the world’s best, it is only fair that our queens get the recognition they deserve for being great sporting ambassadors for the country.

Their supremacy on the African continent is testament of their greatness, as they have won the Women’s African Volleyball Championships a record nine times since they started participating in 1991. This biannual championship pits the best teams on the continent against each other and Kenya has appeared in each final apart from 1999 and 2009 and finished runners-up on two occasions. Their closest challengers are Egypt and Tunisia who have won the championships three times each.

The Malkia Strikers have appeared at two Olympic events, the first one being at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where they won no match but redeemed themselves by winning a set each against Croatia and Australia and finishing eleventh. In 2004, they finished eleventh and since then have failed to qualify for the Olympics.

In 2015 at the 23rd edition of the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), the Malkia Strikers won the title by beating Peru in the final at the games held in Omaha, Nebraska USA. They are placed 33rd in the latest world rankings as at August 2017.

In the just-concluded African National Championships held in Palais des Sports Indoor Arena in Yaoundé Cameroon, the Malkia Strikers beat fierce rivals Egypt three sets of (25-23) (25-22) and (25-19) to set up a final showdown with hosts Cameroon. Victory over Egypt was sweet revenge remembering that Egypt had denied them a chance to represent Africa at the Rio Olympics.

In the final, the girls met their match in the hosts who destroyed them three sets to nil of (25-22) (25-19) and (29-27). Both teams will be Africa’s representatives at the Women’s World Championship in Japan in June 2018. Despite qualifying for the championships, the girls endured a terrible preparation period as they were locked out of the training facility at Moi International Sports Centre (MISC) Kasarani by Sports Kenya, which manages the facility. It was the intervention of sports betting firm SportPesa that enabled them to continue with their preparation; to date, however, they remain without a corporate sponsor.

Coached by Joseph Munala, the current group of stars who did the nation proud in Cameroon comprised of Jane Wacu, Janet Wanja, Violet Makuto, Immaculate Chemutai, Mercy Moim, Noel Murambi, Leonida Kasaya, Evelyne Makuto, Triza Atuke, Brackcidise Agala, Edith Wisa and libero Aggripina Kundu.

At local level, it would be unfair to talk about the game without special mention to a few teams like Kenya Pipeline Company, Kenya Prisons and the General Service Unit (GSU). The clubs have been the pipelines for players who have given the sport much pride. As the ladies prepare for the world championship, it is the hope of volleyball lovers that the team is well prepared to face the best in the world. They have never won a single set at world championship and one can only hope this time round things will be different.