Can Equity Bank Hawks fly high in AWBL Championship in Egypt this time?
NAIROBI (Kenya) - Equity Bank Hawks believe they have the wings to fly high in the inaugural FIBA Africa Women's Basketball League (AWBL) that tips off in Egypt from December 11-19.
The two-time Kenyan champions, who bagged the bronze medal in the FIBA Africa Zone Five Qualifiers last month in Kigali, are headed to North Africa courtesy of a wild card and they are set.
Their results from the regional championships in the Rwandan capital was an improvement from last year's tournament in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where they finished a disappointing fifth position.
Hawks are no strangers to the biggest women club show in the continent formerly called FIBA Africa Champions Cup for Women, having participated in two previous editions. But they do not have fond memories from the championships.
But head coach Ben Oluoch, aware of the task ahead, has assured that his charges are very much capable of writing the wrongs from the previous competitions. They promised not to disappoint.
Equity Bank are ready to square it out with nine other teams led by reigning champions and home team Alexandria Sporting Club (ASC) as well as former champions Interclube of Angola among other participating teams.
Hawks' two previous continental appearances came in 2017 in Luanda, Angola and 2018 in Maputo, Mozambique. They had a poor outings, finishing eighth out of nine teams and nine out of ten teams in the two tournaments respectively.
Oluoch, who deputized David Maina in Luanda and also prides himself in being assistant coach with Patriots of Rwanda in the Basketball Africa League (BAL) show where they lost in the Quarter-Finals, has some tricks up his sleeves.
He who returned home this year from his second stint with another Rwandese club Kigali Titans to take charge of the bankers, is convinced that despite being third in the regional show, they can rise to the occasion in the Alexandria festival.
He is being assisted by the team's most storied player Samba Mjomba who featured for the club and Kenya in many Africa championships. The duo plans to form a formidable technical bench. And it is already showing.
On the team's training, Oluoch said, it has gone a notch higher since they committed into joining the tournament. Everything looks positive as he puts the finishing touches.
"We surpassed our expectations in Rwanda by finishing third in the tournament. If we ca play just a little bit harder out there, I am sure we will get the results we need to make a mark in the championship."Oluoch told FIBA.basketball.
The team's target in the eight-day championship is to perform better than they did in the past events and even a Quarter-Finals slot remains an achievable goal.
Maryann Nyagaki Wanjiku
One of the key players whose stars shone brightest at the LDK Lyncee gymnasium in Kigali remains Grace Irebu. The Congolese had a memorable tournament for Hawks and she is already in Nairobi training with the rest of the squad ahead of their departure.
Other key players that the team will rely upon for success are Kenya national team quartet of captain Melissa Akinyi, Rachael Akinyi , Christine Akinyi and center Maryann Nyagaki.
Betty Kananu (11) in action during the 2018 FIBA African Champions Cup for Women
New signing Judith Pantaleo is expected to provide the much-needed tonic at the back court that will also have the evergreen scorer Betty Kananu.
Oluoch wants to turn around Hawks fortunes and there is no better place to show their talons against the very best than the Africa championships.