June 18, 2024

Kenya and Cameroon are aiming to make history at the Women’s Volleyball World Championship, which got underway in the Netherlands on Friday.

Both teams are targeting a place in the second round, something no African side has ever previously managed.

Yet they are also keen to seize the chance to learn and develop, as they come up against the best in the world.

“It’s a great opportunity for our team to be facing such a great level – we’re going to be trying to break the ceiling in the future,” Kenya’s Brazilian coach Luizomar de Moura told BBC Sport Africa.

He was speaking after the Malkia Strikers went down in straight sets 3-0 (25-11; 25-17; 25-11) to the Dutch co-hosts on the opening night of the tournament.

“The level of the competition will be really high and today we were facing the home team,” coach De Moura said after the game.

“For the ladies to be facing the best players in the world will be a great opportunity to learn from this kind of experience.”

The game was played in a raucous atmosphere, with a packed home crowd inside the Gelredome – normally the home of Eredivisie football team Vitesse Arnhem.

But the young Kenyan squad dealt with the conditions well, marshalled by De Moura and veteran Kenya captain Mercy Moim, in a tournament being co-hosted by both the Netherlands and Poland.

Moim, who has been in the team for 15 years at African and World Championships and most recently at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, says her role now is to help develop the next generation of players.

“I’m like their mother,” Moim told the BBC. “If you are a mother in a family, you have to be in a good position to teach them.

“To be in training on time, [to] respect even the youngest player, from the young player to the senior players, even the coaches.

“You have to respect each and every person who you meet, that’s how you learn and be in volleyball for many more years.”

African rivalry on world stage

Dutch volleyball fans
Kenya played in front of a packed home crowd, just as Cameroon can expect when they play the Dutch co-hosts

Taking on responsibility is something that Cameroon’s Emelda Piata Zessi says she is also beginning to do.

Four years ago, she was up against players who had been her idols growing up as she made her tournament debut, but the 25-year-old is anticipating a different experience at Netherlands-Poland 2022.

Firstly, she knows that young fans back home in Cameroon are watching her for inspiration, and at the same time she says she has an ‘obligation’ to use her experience to help the younger players on her squad.

“There is more pressure on us because we are the ones meant to carry the team, so it’s a little bit different to when I wasn’t the most experienced player,” she said.

“Our team is 80% made up of young girls, so one of the objectives is to make them evolve, bring them more experience and make sure they come to the same level as us – so every game they have to learn new things.”

Kenya and Cameroon are perennial continental rivals.

The pair have played each other in the final of the last five African continental competitions – with Cameroon winning three African championships in a row, and Kenya winning at the two most recent African Games competitions.

They are in the same pool in Netherlands-Poland 2022, which means they are directly competing for a place in the next stage.

Even the World Championship website picks out their clash on Tuesday night as one of the highlights of the opening round.

Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Puerto Rico are the other four teams in their group, so both teams are eyeing victory against their continental rival as a major step towards qualification.

But Kenya captain Moim says despite the rivalry, the two squads are quite unfamiliar to each other at present.

“Cameroon have so many new players, and also in Kenya we have some new players,” she said.

“Maybe I know about three players in Cameroon – it’s a new team, [and] my team is a new one. So we have to make sure that we watch more of their games before we play against them.”

Cameroon’s Zessi knows that to focus too much on the game against Kenya would be a mistake.

“We didn’t come here for Kenya, we came here to compete, to have more experience, to learn and have fun,” she said.

A total of 24 teams are taking part in the 2022 world championship, with the second round featuring four groups of four prior to eight teams advancing to the quarter finals.

The final is in Apeldoorn on 15 October.