A few weeks ago, Sports and Culture Minister Joseph Habineza commended the volleyball federation and their cycling counterparts for a job well done in grooming young talents into professionals. He urged other federations to emulate the volleyball federation.
Over the years, Rwandan volleyball has produced a host of star players; some are already playing at professional level while others have retired. Today, Saturday Sports magazine profiles APR volleyball club’s Mathieu Rwanyonga, who helped the military side to win this year’s league and Carre d’As titles.
The 27-year-old Rwanyonga is regarded as one of the best blockers on the local scene. He played football in his childhood and never thought of volleyball being a sport he would get interested in later in life.
The former ULK student had a passion for football during his school days and featured for his school teams in different inter-schools competitions although he never won anything notable.
“I can’t say that I regret the time I spent playing football but maybe if I had started volleyball at a tender age, I could have become better by now,” he said in an interview this week.
Rwanyonga played football until the age of 15 when he ditched his childhood favourite sport for volleyball. Since then, he has never looked back.
It only took him two years (2003-2005) of hard work to be scouted and recruited by reigning champions APR volleyball club, a side that he is still serving.
“APR is my home and my family; it’s a great feeling serving a club like APR for almost ten years. I’m still with the army side as long as I’m still useful for the club,” Rwanyonga told this magazine.
Rwanyonga, who is the longest serving player in the current APR team, has helped the military side to win six league titles in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Although he was never a regular starter for the seven-time league champions until 2009, the middle front man says hard work and determination was the key to get to the top.
He noted: “I was always eager to learn, I never gave up during my first four years which I spent mostly on the APR bench, in-fact, I even worked harder to win my place in the starting team.”
Not only league titles, Rwanyonga also helped the black-and-white outfit to win other titles including Carre d’As, 1994 Genocide against Tutsi memorial tournament, Coupe du Rwanda among others.
National team duties
Rwanyonga had a very brief stint with the senior national men’s team for two years (2009, 2010) although he never featured for the youth and junior teams.
“I have not been lucky to play regularly for the national team due to the fact that I always had stronger rivals in the middle-front position which was never easy for me to break through. However, I feel much honored for at least having served my country for two years.”
Worst defeat in career
“For the last nine years featuring for APR, I have lost and won so many matches but a game that saddened me most was 2010 league final when we lost 3-2 sets to eventual champions NUR. It’s unforgettable”
“The 2008 league final match win over against Kigali Volleyball Club (KVC) is my fondest memory. We beat them in three sets (3-0) to win the league title which was my second at APR following 2007 triumph.”
Advice to upcoming players
Rwanyonga’s advice to youngsters and those wishing to join volleyball is hard work, loving the sport, discipline and team work spirit.
Note of thanks
The soft spoken Rwanyonga thanks Sammy Mulinge, his current coach at APR and all former coaches at APR, his teammates and friends who motivate and encourage him day-in-day-out.
Who is Rwanyonga?
Born on August 8, 1987 in Bukoba, Tanzania to Faustin Rwanyonga and Daphrose Rwanyonga, he is the second-last born from a family of ten children- six boys and four girls.
Rwanyonga attended Eastern Province-based Kayonza primary school before going to Kayonza modern school for O’level and Umutara Polytechnic for A’level doing veterinary medicine that he completed in 2006.
In 2008, he joined Kigali Independent University (ULK) and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Finance in 2012.
Still single, Rwanyonga looks up to former NUR, APR and national team legendary setter Elie Mutabazi for inspiration.