Dorcas Ndasaba – The female knight of Kenyan volleyball

Dorcas Ndasaba is one of Kenya’s most celebrated volleyballers. She was part of the national volleyball team both as captain and spokesperson, and participated in many local and international tournaments. She was also named the best player in the 2007 All African Games.

For many years, Dorcas Ndasaba was the face of Kenyan women’s volleyball. She was the captain, team leader, spokesperson and the best player on the pitch. Then one day in 2007, the Kenya Volleyball Federation abruptly dropped her from the team.

The decision shocked volleyball fans across the country and a huge outcry ensued. The federation cited her advancing age – she had just turned 37 – as the reason for their decision, but Ndasaba was still full of youthful enthusiasm for the game. Nobody could imagine the national team without her. She had been part of it for close to 20 years.

In the 2007 All Africa Games and the 2007 World Championships, she had been named the best Kenyan player, only to be told she was surplus to the requirements of the national team shortly thereafter. But she says she knew the reason for her sacking.

“There was a pay dispute – the players were demanding more money, and as the captain I stood firm with the team, which may have annoyed the officials.”

Ndasaba had lived all her adult life as a volleyball player, featured in two Olympic Games – Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 – and the World Cup in 1995 and 2007. After the 2007 World Cup, she knew her time was up. She was no longer wanted in the team.

“The players and I cried. It was painful. But it was best for me to leave while my game was still good.”

Ndasaba was born into a sporty family in Bungoma County in the early 1970s. Her father played football, one of her sisters played netball and another was an athlete. One of her brothers played club volleyball for Kenya Pipeline. She was the second youngest of 10 children and first started playing volleyball as a teenager.

“I was in primary school when I saw some people playing something like beach volleyball on the shores of River Nzoia. I loved it,” she recalls. She slowly made the move from high jump to volleyball.

Soon after finishing high school, she was snapped up by Kenya Railways, before Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, also known as Posta, came knocking with a better offer – an undemanding clerical job.

She was soon called to the national team and first represented the country in the Africa Cup held in Cairo in 1991.

Ndasaba worked for Posta for 10 years, but in between took three years off to play club volleyball in Japan, where her talent was honed further. The offer from Japan came when her daughter Cynthia, now grown up, was just three months old. She was offered a six-month contract and had to seek advice and help from her mother, who agreed to take care of the baby in her absence.

Beyond improving her game, her stint in Japan came with a handsome financial reward that saw her able to educate her siblings. She was left to fend for the family when her father died in 1991.

Ndasaba eventually decamped from Posta to Kenya Commercial Bank, although she only featured for them when she was back in the country from her club duties in Japan.

From Japan, she moved to Turkey, where she played club volleyball for three years. She retained her place in the national team, and was eventually named captain.

She considers it special that she had the chance to play in two Olympic Games, her most memorable being in 1999.

“We played against Australia, who were seeking to qualify for the Olympics alongside Russia. I was the captain. I was in my best form,” she says.

Kenya won 3-0 against very tall Russians and 3-1 against the Aussies. To cap it all, Ndasaba was named the best spiker.

After leaving the national team, she returned to Kenya, but soon left again, this time for Rwanda. She lived in Kigali, serving as a player and coach, up to 2012. On retiring from court volleyball, she took up beach volleyball.

“Although I had no beach playing experience, once I tried it, I liked it. It was more tactical and easier to play,” she states.

Her team surprised many when they qualified for the World Cup in Russia and the 2011 All Africa Games, from which they came away with a bronze medal.

She describes the atmosphere on the volleyball court as tense, rough and brutish, just the way she loved it. Off the court, however, she says she is a lot gentler and orderly.

“I like things done in a systematic way. My life is planned,” she explains.

Despite her many years on the court, Ndasaba retains her good looks. Her athletic physique is still intact as her active lifestyle ensures that she does not gain any unwanted weight. She now lives in western Kenya, farming sugarcane and maintaining her exercise regimen.

“My days begin at 5am. I go for my morning run, jump rope then head straight to the farm,” she says.

She is often amused when people in the village express surprise at seeing her handle a hoe. But farming is what she has dedicated her energies to for now.

“At lunch time I oversee the cattle grazing and supervise my mother’s farm before switching gears to housewife. We also have a general store, which is run by my husband,” she adds.

She has plenty to share with the current crop of players.

“I played volleyball when it was a real honour to be among the six players on the court. Playing then was bigger than the money you earned,” she reminisces. “It was for the love of the game. The teamwork was great. It is not the same now.”

On what the country must do to catch up with the best in the world, she points out unfavourable playing surfaces, harsh training conditions and poor diet as the biggest impediments.

“Our training grounds are very bad. We have an indoor gym that players rarely use, and if they use it, it is not well lit.”

She also talks about the treatment of former players by the government. Most have been left to wallow in poverty, unlike in the developed world.

Ndasaba has been busy trying to promote volleyball in Bungoma, where many young girls look up to her and have taken up the game.

“I get many requests to train people and schools in my area. I know another Ndasaba is out there waiting to be discovered,” she says.

Out there, she admires Cuban player Mireya Luis, whose prowess on the court saw her earn numerous awards and medals at world championships and the Olympics. In July 2017, Ndasaba was appointed Kenya’s Women’s Volleyball team assistant coach.

Words of Wisdom

  • “Take life positively. Never look back on the disappointments or let regrets or bad moments weigh you down. Forge forward and face new challenges.”
  • “Self-drive is important, especially in sports. Always aim to improve from the last game.”
  • “Never let stardom go to your head.”
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