The national women's volleyball team, Malkia Strikers, began their hunt for a record-extending 10th Africa Nations Cup title with a 3-0 (25-19, 25-21, 25-21) win over Algeria in a Group 'B' match at the October 6 Hall in Giza, Egypt Tuesday evening.
Earlier on at the same venue, defending champions Cameroon thumped Botswana 3-0 (25-12, 25-17, 25-10) in the opening match of the biennial competition that has attracted seven teams.
Kenya, under Italian Shaileen Ramdoo, were in cruise control from the onset and deservedly led 8-7 at the first technical timeout before pulling away 13-9. They carried the four-point cushion to the second technical timeout leading 16-12 and finally claimed the set at 25-19.
The record African champions were in no mood to relax, hitting the north Africans with fast and hard spikes to take an 8-5 lead at the first TTO in the second set. Ramdoo, probably with other pool matches on his mind, brought in Kenya Prisons centre Edith Wisa for Trizah Atuka, then setter Jane Wacu replaced Janet Wanja. Algeria conjured a mini-comeback and took a 12-11 lead but Malkia Strikers steadied the ship for a 16-13 lead at the second TTO.
The Algerians fought back again, to close the gap to 22-20, but the Kenyans proved too strong to claim the set point at 24-21, before putting the set to bed at 25-21.
The Italian rested majority of his starters for the third set, with former captain Brackcides Agala, Kenya Pipeline's rookie middle blocker Gladys Ekaru and outside hitter Sharon Chepchumba all getting some game time. Kenya again started strongly, with 8-5, 10-7, 16-10 leads all punctuating the scoresheet, before the Algerians rose from the dead to close the gap to 19-16 - forcing Ramdoo to call for a timeout.
"It was a tough game but we won because everyone played her part and showed commitment. We look forward to improve in the next group matches," offered Moim.
Chepchumba then replaced skipper Mercy Moim as Kenya cruised to a 22-18 lead. The Algerians signalled for a timeout, then sprung back to 22-20, forcing Ramdoo to ring the bell once again. With the match evenly poised, Kenya Prisons attacker Immaculate Chemutai rose to the occasion, making a late crucial block before tapping home the clincher as Kenya joined Cameroon at the summit of Pool B with three points each.
The Kenyans play Botswana on Wednesday, while Cameroon will renew rivalry with Algeria in the other Pool B match also Wednesday. By the time of going to press, hosts Egypt were preparing to take on Senegal in their opening Pool A match, with the other team in the group, Morocco, inactive since the pool has only three teams.
The top two teams from both pools will advance to the semi-finals.
Cameroon 3-0 Botswana (25-12, 25-17, 25-10)
Kenya 3-0 Algeria (25-19, 25-21, 25-21)