The wait is finally over. Tears of joy, frenzied celebrations and a cocktail of emotions were the scenes after the final point was awarded at Palais polyvalent des sports (Paposy) Arena here.
After 16 years of near-misses and heartbreak, Kenya’s female volleyball team Malkia Strikers are through to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games after a routine 3-0 (25-15, 25-21, 25-12) win over Nigeria in their last match on Thursday.
Paul Bitok's charges started their campaign last Sunday with a 3-1 win over Egypt then strolled 3-0 past Botswana in their second match on Monday.
The African queens then saw off hosts and arch-rivals Cameroon 3-2 on Tuesday to move within a win from making a return to the Summer Games after a 16-year hiatus.
Kenya's recent history in regards to the Olympics is forged in pain and fuelled by emotional energy with the girls having last participated in the Olympics in the 2004 Athens Games.
The win over Nigeria took Kenya’s tally to 11 points, one ahead of Cameroon who finished second ahead of Egypt, Nigeria and Botswana in the five-nations qualification tournament played in round-robin format.
ALL GUNS BLAZING
Well aware that he needed to get maximum points to secure the ticket to Tokyo, Bitok did not gamble with his line-up. He started with his preferred first six of Mercy Moim, Leonida Kasaya, Edith Wisa, Violet Makuto, Sharon Chepchumba and Jane Wacu. And Kenya were out all guns blazing, leading 8-2 at the first technical timeout before they went on to take the set 25-15.
“We just wanted to enjoy ourselves and complete the job. I am happy that the girls won without dropping a set. Our focus shifts to Olympics and once we get home we will sit with the federation to chat the way forward in terms of preparations,” said Bitok.
“We hope to have a training camp in Turkey for three months and play quality friendly matches against top nations,” he added.
Nigeria caused a scare in the second set where they went for the first technical timeout 8-7 ahead, then twice levelled the scores at 18-18 and 20-20 but Kenya's experience showed with Leonida Kasaya providing the side-outs. Moim provided the set point and a killer block from Wisa saw Kenya quell Nigeria’s resistance.
Bitok recalled his first six for the third set which Kenya won with bemusing ease after leading 16-9 at the second technical timeout.
The west Africans were never in the contest in the third and pivotal set as Kenya, who needed to win the match 3-0 or 3-1 to qualify, went on to seal the ticket with a 25-12 score for a 3-0 win.
Opposite attacker Sharon Chepchumba once again led the scoring for Kenya with 11 points while skipper Mercy Moim and middle blocker Edith Wisah contributed 10 points each for the East Africans.
Nigeria's opposite attacker Albertina Francis was their top scorer with 10 points while wing spiker Ukpabi scored nine.