Kwanthanze overcome Cheptil, cruise to FEASSSA volleyball final
“Nasema asantee, nasema asantee, nasema asanteee ewe Mungu wanguu...”
“We thank you God, for not letting us down today. We say thank you again…”
This was not your typical sporting encounter; at the end of a nerve-wracking five-setter, East African volleyball queens Kwanthanze Girls fell to the court and buried their teary faces in the grass after cruising to the games final in Musanze, Rwanda.
When their strength returned they stood and started a song. And then its Coach Justine Kigwari led a quick short prayer. They had just survived an almighty scare, going two sets down to their Kenyan compatriots Cheptil before cutting back the deficit to win in dramatic fashion.
Cheptil’s underdog status and bravery had earned them a huge chunk of the neutrals, making Kwanthanze’s job all the while harder as they swam against the wave of the crowd support.
By the sight of it, this semi-final seemed like a classic mismatch as the giant frames of Kwanthanze lined up to face their miniature opponents. Cheptil’s tallest player Sharon Jeruto would not be a starter for Kwanthaze if physique were the purely determining factor.
But relying on grit and sheer will, Cheptil – who won bronze during last year’s edition in Gulu, Uganda – raced to take the first set 25-20 clinching a second straight set after winning 25-23.
Kwanthanze provided a ruthless response in the third set, winning 25-9 while benefiting from four rotation overlaps from their opponents. They dominated the next to win 25-14 and set up the sudden death procedure.
Cheptil quickly went 3-1 up in the final set and then it was 3-2. Kwanthanze tied it at 4-4 but Cheptil wheeled away again to 8-12 and then to 9-13.
‘Unimaginable and unbelievable’
But they failed to capitalize on their four-point advantage as Kwanthanze’s combination of class and brute force ensured it ended 15-13 with Miriam Chelimo delivering the winning spike to set her side on the path to a fourth East African title.
“There is no day God has ever been down and out and since we believe in Him we knew God wants to perform a miracle and prove that He is God. Our Girls are better and whatever was happening was unimageable and unbelievable.
“Things were just happening against us but then we prayed to God and trusted in Him. We had to change our tactic and out covering system 25-14 after those two opening sets because they were tipping the balls more. It worked for us.” Kigari told Citizen Digital after the match.
His opposite number Joel Mengech had nothing but praise for his charges, whom he admitted had punched above their weight to drag Kwanthanze through the full distance.
“I told them to just go out there and have fun. This is a team that has defeated us on many occasions; they’re big and strong so I told my girls to worry little and just focus on enjoying themselves. I told we have nothing and, in the end, they played a truly incredible game.”
In a remarkable show of sisterhood, both teams who traveled aboard one bus from Kenya to Musanze then converged in the court and formed a circle as Kigwari led a final round of prayer.
Matthews Mutai is reporting from Musanze, Rwanda.
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