"However, we do not go there just to pay a visit, but to enjoy the game and try to be successful."
The Rwandan women made history at the ParaVolley Africa Sitting Volleyball Championships after coming from behind to beat Egypt 3-2 in the gold-medal match.
With the victory, Rwanda will be sending their first women’s sitting volleyball team to represent Africa at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Their achievement is No. 3 in the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of the year.
Three years ago, the men’s team made their Paralympic debut at London 2012, thus the women did not want to miss out. The Rwandan women’s team owned a 4-1 overall record in the first round, en route to obtaining the African title. The Sub-Saharan team opened the six-day tournament held in July in Kigali, Rwanda. They were victorious over Burundi, which was followed by a straight-set triumph against Uganda.
However, Rwanda did not progress to the final easily, suffering a tight defeat against Kenya in the third match.
“Even though we were the host country, most of the public was on our side and we had a better team on paper,” said Rwanda’s coach Peter Karreman. “Kenya played a great game and defeated us. Besides, the desire for revenge after having been defeated by Rwanda at the 2011 Men’s ParaVolley African Championships final, which led us to the London Paralympics, added motivation to their [Kenya’s] team.”
The Rwandan team rapidly recovered from this loss and subsequently defeated Egypt 3-1 and Congo 3-0 to reach the final match, once more against the Egyptian team.
“We knew it was going to be hard,” Karreman said. “They had been training for months, whilst us just for weeks before the Championships. We had played five games against Egypt and lost three at a training camp we shared in November 2014.”
The final match was a back-and-forth battle.
Egypt took the first set 26-24. Rwanda responded by taking the second set 25-17. The visitors narrowly won the third 25-23. But Rwanda, by just a matter of two points in each game, took the next two 26-24, 15-13, and secured the African title.
With less than one year ahead of the Rio 2016 Paralympics, the Rwandan team has already followed some intense training sessions in Slovenia and plan to continue their preparation in the Netherlands and Germany in the upcoming months. They will also compete in the 2016 World ParaVolley Intercontinental in February in China. There, Rwanda is expected to revisit Egypt, and another tight match-up is expected.
“We know sitting volleyball is highly competitive world-wide,” Rwandan team captain Liliane Mukobwankabo said. “However, we do not go there just to pay a visit, but to enjoy the game and try to be successful.”
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2015, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.