Kenya overcame a stubborn Botswana in straight sets, 3-0 (25-14, 31-29, 25-20) in their opening match of their Confederation of African Volleyball women's u-23 Championship played at Safaricom Indoor Arena on Sunday.
In this match, Kenya coach Catherine Mabwi opted to start with captain Pauline Nafula, Veronica Kilabat, Edna Mwombe, Doreen Marani, Ann Lowem and Sarah Were as the libero.
The towering Lowem scored with a hard knock down as Kenya rushed to a 6-2 and 8-4 lead respectively. The pressure proved too much and made Botswana coach Isaac Thengelani to call for a time out.
On resumption, the same script was on the card as Mabwi introduced Yvonne Wavinya who was instrumental as the team rallied to a 16-6 advantage prompting Thengelani to call for a second time out.
This did nothing to the shape of the game as the combative Marani combined well with Lowem to score back to back points for a 19-6 lead.
Botswana needed a quick response and the tide shifted with them scoring five successive points, captain Caroline Rodger being the chief architect of the resurgence.
A tactical timeout by Mabwi to fire up her charges worked as they took the set 25-14.
The second set brought a sterner approach by Botswana as the teams were locked at eight points a piece. The visitors seemed to have an response for every Kenyan point as they tied the game at 12-12.
Botswana took the lead for the first time in the match inspired by hard hitting Moilamo Nkobedi. There was big blow for Kenya as captain Nafula sprained her right ankle and was unable to continue.
Botswana were resilient as they trailed 22-23 and eventually tied it at 24 all. The two traded points but the home side eventually prevailed 31-29.Kenya took the third set 25-20.
After the match, Mabwi admitted to Sports News Arena: "It was a tough match but we showed our strength by stepping up and playing our game."
She stated that they will approach the game against Egypt in the same manner of quick tempo on the offence. She said that Nafula is still being assessed to see if she will recover in time for the match.
Thengelani blamed the loss on lack of concentration by his players. "We knew Kenya is a top side so pushing them all the way is a plus for us. Our concentration let us down in the end," he said.
In the second match, Senegal took the first set 28-26 in a closely fought encounter against Rwanda. They used the towering figures of Seck Mbayang and Ndoye Assietou to block shots effectively as they scored early points to rush to a 6-4 lead after five minutes of play.
Rwanda hit back to tie the game at 7-7 courtesy of unforced errors by Senegalese players while defending. The end to end affair saw Senegal's Assietou make a mishit to give Rwanda a 16-15 lead.
This made the livid Senegal coach Diallo Gana Faye to call a technical timeout. The move seemed to have paid off as Donde Khadidiatou hit two successive vicious hits enroute to her team's 21-19 lead.
The final stretch saw Rwanda come back into the match to level 26-all.
Senegal's middle blocker Seck Mbayang's power drive ricocheted off Benitha Mukandayisenga for a 27-26 advantage. Teammate Binetou Cisse sealed the set for Senegal.
The second set saw a rejuvenated Rwanda start stronger of the two rushing to a 16-12 lead. Setter Grace Niyigena's piledriver extended their lead to 22-13.
Captain Seraphine Mukantambara scored the final point as Rwanda took the set 25-17 to tie the match at 1-1.
The Rwandese were on fire and won the third set 25-14 with Mukantambara again settling matters. Delphine Uwicyeza's spike sealed the fourth set 25-19 and the match for Rwanda.
Rwanda head coach Paul Bitok was pleased. " I am happy with the team's determination and fight. We started on the back foot but picked ourselves especially in the second set. We would like to improve on our blocking especially on the baselines." he said.
Results day one
Kenya 3 Botswana 0 (25-14, 31-29, 25-20), Rwanda 3 Senegal 1 (26-28, 25-17, 25-14, 25-19)
(Monday) Kenya v Egypt (4 p.m.), Botswana v Senegal (2 p.m.)