Volleyball is among the disciplines lifting high the country’s flag on regional, continental and world stage.
Although the sport is not so popular, it has produced professional players who have represented the country in international competitions including world championships.
In 2013, four national volleyball teams competed in World Championships for the first time in the country’s history.
In the women beach volleyball, the country won a bronze medal at the 2015 All African Games that were held in Congo Brazzaville. The medal came through the pair of Denyse Mutatsimpundu and Charlotte Nzayisenga. This was the country’s first ever medal in this category at a major competition.
Two weeks ago, the duo made history again after winning gold at the 2017 CAVB Beach Volleyball Cup staged in Maputo, Mozambique.
With that achievement, Rwanda qualified for the 2017 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships that will be held in Vienna, Austria from July 28 to August 6.
This week, Saturday Sport caught up with Mutatsimpundu, who narrated her passion for beach volleyball and what the recent achievement means to her.
Mutatsimpundu started playing Volleyball while in senior two, in 2012 having spent most of her earlier years in athletics and football.
She represented her primary school at various athletics competitions up to Provincial level and she was also part the school girls’ football team.
“Throughout my primary, I was an athlete, I had no idea about volleyball, but I loved football most and even in my early days in secondary, I was part of the school team,” she recounts.
In senior two, she picked interest in volleyball but continued to play football as well and when she reached senior three, she decided to concentrate on volleyball, thanks to advice from Abdul Karim Shumbusho, who was then the coach of Ruhango Volleyball Club.
“When I joined Ruhango, they promised to pay my school fees on top of paying me some allowance. With such enticements, I accepted their offer and decided to fully concentrate on volleyball.”
Mutatsimpundu, who currently plays for league club APR VC, featured for Ruhango in the national women league from 2008 until 2012 when she completed her A’ level at GS Indaburezi where she also won the Inter-schools competition between 2009 and 2012.
She joined APR in 2013 and won one league title in her first season.
Mutatsimpundu has featured for the national team at the junior and youth levels. However, at the senior level; the statistics are not as good due to the fact that the senior team has not been as active in last six years.
She was part of the youth team (U-17) that finished fourth at the African Championships, which was hosted and won by Egypt in March 2010.
In September of the same year, Mutatsimpundu was part of the junior (U-21) national team that competed at the African U-21 Championships in Tunisia. Egypt again claimed the title after defeating Tunisia in the final with Rwanda claiming the fourth spot, behind Algeria.
Beach volleyball career
Mutatsimpundu started playing beach volleyball in 2012, partnering with Nzayisenga for the CAVB Continental Cup that took place in Rubavu District on the shores of Lake Kivu.
In 2013, along with Nzayisenga, they won the U-20 African Beach Volleyball Championships that was hosted in Togo upsetting favourites South Africa in two sets (2-0) to qualify for the 2012 World Championships in Canada.
However, Canada denied entry visas to Rwanda as well as four other African countries, leaving only South Africa as the only team to represent the continent.
In 2013, the duo represented the country in the Continental U-23 Championships and they won the tournament to qualify for 2013 World Championships in Poland where they finished 25th out of 32 teams.
In 2015, the duo won a bronze medal at All Africa Games in Brazzaville, and the following year, they missed out on qualification to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games after losing to Egypt in the final of CAVB Beach Volleyball that took place in Abuja, Nigeria.
A fortnight ago, Mutatsimpundu and Nzayisenga won the CAVB Beach Volleyball African Nations Cup in Maputo, Mozambique after defeating Morocco 2-1 in the final that gave them a historic ticket to compete at the 2017 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships.
Born on March 7, 1989 in Ruhango sector in Ruhango district, Southern Province to Anatalie Nyinawabaja and Claudien Gasana, Mutatsimpundu is the fifth born in the family of nine-seven girls and two boys.
The 28-year-old is the only athlete in the family.
Despite becoming a successful volleyball player, Mutatsimpundu has also excelled in school and will this year graduate from Kigali Independent University (ULK) with a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology.
She started school at Ecole Primarie de Munini in Ruhango district and later joined Ecole Secondaire de Munini for her Ordinary level studies.
After she later joined Groupe Scolaire Indangaburezi where she studied Computer Science and Management and completed in 2012.
Best and worst moments
She says her best moment was winning a gold medal in Mozambique. “It was overwhelming and I now feel more of a beach volleyball player than an indoor player, while the worst moment was missing out on Rio Olympic Games qualification,” she stated.
Future plans and ambitions
He says, “I want to become a professional beach volleyball player competing at a global level, that’s my target before I retire.”
“First and foremost, I thank God for enabling me to reach this level. I also thank my parents for being supportive and last but not least, all my coaches Paul Bitok (national team), Viateur Sibomana (APR VC) and Shumbusho (Ruhango), who introduced me to this sport.”