That the Uganda men’s volleyball team made a debut at the just concluded CAVB Volleyball African Nations Championship is an achievement in itself.
That the team went on to finish fifth out of the 16 teams is even a better story to tell.
Dominated by players still looking to establish themselves in national colours, the Cranes registered a 4-2 record and ranked highest compared to their East African counterparts and defeated Rwanda 3-1 to leave the stage on a high.
The team left Uganda with a goal of getting out of group A and to the quarterfinals, something they achieved although different voices in the camp believe even getting to the semis was achievable.
The Cranes made light work of Burkina Faso 3-1 and Burundi 3-0 to progress to the quarters with a game to spare.
That game, against neighbours and rivals Rwanda, was lost in dramatic fashion and left the Cranes in disbelief at some key calls made by the referee on the night.
Uganda started their quarterfinal clash with Egypt in high spirits and took the first set but faded thereafter to surrender the game and focus on classification games for positions 5-8.
A 3-1 win over DR Congo and a similar scoreline against Morocco handed Uganda a fifth place finish and wild celebrations on Rwandan soil.
Scoring machine Okello
Uganda’s opposite Daudi Okello lost a number of points in the service box but made up for them with a high success rate from his attack.
Whether he had to dismantle the block, go for the line or above the block, Okello found a way of scoring points and was the top scorer of the tournament with 142 points.
George Aporu, who is usually the other lethal option on offense, had a lot on his plate dealing with the reception but Okello kept getting the points.
The former league MVP, who has now played in Rwanda, Europe and Asia, is set to feature for KAVC locally but his performance at the championship should attract offers beyond the borders.
Names such Gideon Angiro, Allan Ejiet, Marino Oboke, Johnson Rukundo, Samuel Engwau, Bernard Malinga and Jonathan Tumukunde paint a good picture for the future of the Volleyball Cranes.
Only George Aporu, Smith Okumu and Dickens Otim have had a long spell on the team and the rest will be around for some years to come.
“The biggest achievement for us is that we had a young team and this is good exposure for them,” national teams’ technical advisor Nason Bwesigye told SCORE.
Even with names like Ivan Ongom, Cuthbert Malinga and Savior Atama missing on the team, those who got the nod made a good account of themselves.
Nemostars’ setter Moses Odeke is the other face that was missing out due to work commitments.
“A number of players have grown in confidence by the mere fact that they got to play,” team captain Aporu said.
Poor from the service box
To compete at this level, a team must be highly efficient from the service box to give opponents work to do on reception.
For Uganda, though, the complicated hard serve mainly failed to work out for players like Daudi Okello, Aporu and Allan Ejiet.
By the last game of the competition for the Cranes, both Okello and Aporu had switched to a more cautious serve to eliminate the errors from previous games.
The two losses, to Rwanda in the last group game and Egypt in the quarterfinal, could mainly be attributed to poor service.
“We made quite many unforced errors especially from our service,” head coach Shilla Omuriwe Buyungo told SCORE after the loss to Egypt.
Uganda has always struggled to receive the ball and the case wasn’t different against good opposition in Kigali, Rwanda.
Yves Mutabazi of Rwanda was the first to put Uganda’s reception to test and they failed the test as Rwanda won the last group A game to top the group.
Against Rwanda and Egypt, the Cranes struggled to get a good pass on the first ball.
George Aporu, Gideon Angiro and Emmanuel Elanyu all struggled contain the hard serve and feed setter Smith Okumu with a good pass.
The reception was much better from the team in the fifth place playoff and this allowed Okumu to feed his attackers on the day.
No show for ladies
The women’s championship served off midway the men’s and will come to an end tomorrow.
However, while the Volleyball Cranes celebrate fifth place, the women’s team couldn’t make the trip to Rwanda due to financial constraints.
Uganda Volleyball Federation technical director Tony Lakony told this paper that the federation had to make a choice on what team to fund since the money at their disposal was not enough.
“It was a case of choosing because of resources,” he said.
He, however, admits that missing out on the tournament leaves the Lady Volleyball Cranes behind their regional counterparts and they will have to now play catch up.
“It leaves us far behind in the region yet we were aiming for Kenya and Egypt,”
Kenya and Uganda might no longer be the only forces to reckon with considering Rwanda has naturalized some players already to complement the local talent.
Men’s African Clubs Champions
Women's African Clubs Champions
Men’s African Nations Champions
Men’s African team at Tokyo 2020
Men’s Africa Champs
Best Server Arthur Kody CMR
Best Blocker Voukeng Mbativou CMR
Best Setter Khalid Ben Slimane TUN
Best Attacker Wassim Ben Tara TUN
Best Receiver Zouheir Elgraoui MAR
Best Libero Mohamed Reda EGY
MVP Mo El Hachdadi MAR
How they finished
FIVB World Ranking- Men’s Top 10 African Teams
73.Uganda 74.DR Congo