2019 in Review: The return of Bitok got Kenya spiking again
- The return of volleyball titan Paul Bitok to his motherland country from Rwanda where he had illustrious 10-year coaching career with the tiny East Africa country national teams mid this year was perhaps the biggest highlight in the sport in 2019.
- The former Kenyan international who became the first Kenyan male player to play professional volleyball outside the country when he signed for Tunisian side Etiole Sportiff in 1998 had helped Rwanda to rise and become one of the best in Africa across all categories.
- In August, barely two months after the towering coach turned down Rwanda’s offer, he was appointed to lead the national women’s team, Malkia Strikers, just two weeks before the African Games kicked off in Rabat, Morocco.
The return of volleyball titan Paul Bitok to his motherland from Rwanda where he had had an illustrious 10-year coaching career with the tiny East Africa country national teams mid this year was perhaps the biggest highlight in volleyball in 2019.
The former Kenya international who became the first Kenyan male player to play professional volleyball outside the country when he signed for Tunisian side Etiole Sportiff in 1998 had helped Rwanda rise and become one of the best in Africa across all categories.
With the Kenyan volleyball seemingly on downward trajectory, it was evident the country was in need of his unmatched experience spanning over 30-years and the Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) led by President Waithaka Kioni ensured the prodigal son did not extend his stay in Rwanda much longer.
In August, barely two months after the towering coach turned down Rwanda’s offer for extended stay, he was appointed to lead the national women’s team, Malkia Strikers, just two weeks before the African Games kicked off in Rabat, Morocco.
The former KCB player took over from the FIVB seconded coach Shailene Ramdoo whose contract ‘expired’ by the end of July and left the team following a souring of relations between him and other technical bench members, as well as part of the playing unit.
Immediately after taking over the mantle, the 46-year-old Bitok promised to tap into his experience to reunite Malkia Strikers broken camp and the technical bench before they headed to Morocco.
“Since I took over I have tried my best, to see how we can come together and some of the experienced players are helping me to encourage the young ones to be part of the team,” Bitok told Citizen Digital then.
Instantly, Bitok brought sanity in the camp and the nine-time African champions started to reap from his vast experience after they successfully defended their African Games title whipping Cameroon 3-1 in finals on August 31.
That final was another series of unending duels between the two volleyball titans in the continent and as any other final, the match lived to its billing with many thrills and spills.
“Since I came back to the team my intention was to help the girls return to the top where they are and I am happy we have done that today. It was a difficult encounter especially when we were trailing but it was an experience that played part for us as we came from behind in many parts of the game,” he said after winning his maiden title with Malkia Strikers.
In Morocco, it was a sweet revenge for the five-time African champions who prior to that final had struggled to beat Cameroon on two consecutive African Nations Volleyball Championships finals.
KVF boss Kioni led the volleyball fraternity in welcoming Bitok, adding that he believed the 46-year-old former national player would share his rich experience harnessed during his Rwanda stint.
“We respect what he has achieved in Rwanda and we believe he can add value to our national teams. He has already told me about his return and will see how best we can utilize his skills,” the KVF boss said in June when Bitok was contemplating leaving Rwanda.
Upon his return, the decorated volleyball gaffer came up with a proposal to change the format of the national regular KVF League.
After the adoption of the document formulated by Bitok, the 2020/2021 season will serve off in October and conclude in May the following year, with the period between May and June specifically left for national team assignments and beach volleyball.
Also in the proposal, the league for both men and women will be played by 12 teams and in four phases namely classificatory, quarterfinal, semi-final and final. The teams will form a single group and be listed according to their technical level in the previous season.
It is now left for KVF to implement the proposal which also suggested that all league matches should be played indoors.
Bitok’s return to coach the Malkia Strikers has been viewed as part of a grand master plan to use his success on the job to fuel his own ambitions to ascend to the KVF presidency and most believe he is the ideal candidate to take over.
During the KVF league finale in Kapsabet in October, Bitok seemed to make a u-turn after he said he was ready to scale down his ambitions of succeeding long-serving Kioni and focus solely on delivering from the touchline if his bid was to leave a taint on his reign as Malkia Strikers head coach.
“I have dropped my dream for now because many people think I am engaging myself very much in the game to campaign for 2022 elections. I will now concentrate on how to improve the game and my record will speak for myself when that time comes,” he said after reports that he was coming up with many proposals as a way of campaigning.
The celebrated coach had said earlier that he is mulling a leap into management ahead of the 2022 KVF elections when the Kioni’s term ends.
Nomination for SOYA awards
After leading Malkia Strikers to successfully defend the African Games title without losing a single match, Bitok has now been nominated for the Coach of the Year in the 2019 Sports Personality of the Year Awards (SOYA).
For his instant success with the five-time African Games champions, Bitok will contest for the SOYA award against Vihiga Queens coach Alex Alumira, KCB rugby coach Curtis Olago and Harambee Starlets tactician David Ouma during the event primed for January 24 in Mombasa.
After the African Games, Bitok also led Malkia Strikers to the World Cup in Japan where they beat Cameroon but lost all the other 10 matches. They left the tournament having only won one match.
Bitok’s next assignment will be to ensure the Kenyan lasses return to the Olympics Games next year in Tokyo, Japan after a 15-year hiatus.
Malkia Strikers will leave for Cameroon to hunt the one slot reserved for Africa from January 2 to 9 where they will face off with the hosts, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Botswana, Rwanda and Mauritius.
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