Bitok’s expert hand steering Malkia Strikers back on top

The national women’s volleyball team Malkia Strikers is reclaiming its reputation as Africa’s top dog in the sport and the Kenyans accelerated their quest back to the continent’s summit on Tuesday night in Yaounde.

Since Cameroon upset Kenya in the final of the African Nations Championship last year in July for the second time in as many years, Malkia Strikers have responded emphatically.

Malkia Strikers have not tasted defeat in subsequent four meetings with their West African rivals with their latest triumph putting them on the brink of sealing the sole Olympic Games ticket reserved for African countries.

The nine-time African champions’ resurgence has put an overriding sense that Kenya is on the ascendancy, while their rivals are seemingly drifting in the opposition direction if recent results are anything to go by.

The return of Paul Bitok has without doubt been the catalyst for Malkia Strikers’ upturn in form with the veteran coach instigating an immediate improvement in results, aesthetics and harmony in the team.

Since he took over, Bitok has won four consecutive matches which Kenya has played Cameroon with Tuesday’s night 3-2 win clearly showing how the tide has changed.

Under Bitok’s stewardship, Kenya successfully defended the African Games crown on August 31 after spanking Cameroon 3-2 in the finals before winning 3-1 sets against the same familiar foe.

Speaking exclusively to Citizen Digital, Bitok attributed the recent performance against Cameroon to his ability to bring sanity in the squad following a souring of relations emerged during Ramdoo’s tenure.

“I have reunited the squad since I took over and now we are playing as a family hence our good performance. The technical bench member and the playing unit is speaking with one voice.”

He went on: “Cameroon is a good team and they have invested heavily in the game but I thank my players because despite our challenges we have been able to ‘contain’ them. That win is very important and we need to continue improving so that we can continue regaining our lost glory,” elated Bitok told.

Young Blood

The former Kenyan international also believes giving youthful player chance has made him to successfully lay down strong foundation with the African Games champions.

In Cameroon, Bitok traveled with rookies Gladys Ekaru and Jemimah Siang’u with the latter making her maiden appearance in national team colours while the former was called up to fill the shoes of middle blocker Triza Atuka who has been ruled out with a knee injury.

“You cannot plan for a future without young players and even if they are not playing regularly it is important to be part of the team,” he said. “To show how important the youthful players are, look at how Chepchumba (Sharon) has helped the team despite being only one and a half years in the squad.”

After defeating Cameroon in the penultimate qualifier fixture, Kenya lead the standings in the tournament being played in a round-robin format on eight points one above the hosts and will grab the single ticket if they pick maximum points against lowly ranked Nigeria on Thursday. Cameroon will play Egypt in their final match.

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