VOLLEYBALL is one of the most popular sports disciplines in Rwanda, most probably only third after football and cycling. Over the last two decades several volleyball stars have emerged; these include famous names such as Eric ‘Machine’ Nsabimana, Jean Luc Ndayikengurukiye and Elie Mutabazi.
But there is also the newer breed of stars, a generation of young and middle-aged Rwandans with great ambitions to take the sport to a higher level. In this issue, Richard Bishumba talks to Rwanda international Patrick Kavalo Akumuntu about his journey from a humble beginning to becoming one of the country’s finest volleyball players.
Who is Akumuntu
The last born from a family of four boys, Akumuntu was born on March 30, 1992 in Rubona, Huye district to Innocent Bazarusanga (RIP) and Consolee Uwantege.
He attended Ecole Primaire Mugombwa in Nyamagabe district and Groupe Scolaire Runyombyi in Nyaruguru district for O’ Level before moving to GS Gihundwe in Rusizi district for A’Level where he completed high school in 2009, majoring in Mathematics and Physics.
Akumuntu graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from Adventist University of Central Africa.
The 24-year-old disclosed that volleyball was never his sport until 2003 when he picked interest from his two elder brothers; Innocent Uwihanganye and Flavien Ndamukunda. Prior to that, his interest was in playing football and even featured for his primary school team.
By picking interest in volleyball, Akumuntu wanted to be like former Rwanda international Nsabimana or his brother Ndamukunda. On international level, his volleyball role-model is Cuban international Wilfredo Leon Venero.
“It is unusual to have a sibling who happens to be your role model, but, Flavien was one of my idols when I started volleyball, and he is still one of the best. For me to be where I am today, he has played a crucial role,” Akumuntu told Saturday Sport.
After giving up football in 2004, Akumuntu committed to volleyball and two years later, he started playing for his O’Level volleyball team and later, the A’Level team. Unfortunately, he never managed to win anything during his early days as a volleyball player.
After finishing secondary school in 2009, the then 19-year-old Akumuntu signed for former league side Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) in early 2010 and featured for the university side for two seasons.
The soft-spoken Akumuntu will soon be starting his ninth season playing in the national volleyball league.
He played for KIE for the 2010 and 2011 seasons before crossing to Ngoma-based UNIK (formerly INATEK) also for two seasons, 2013 and 2014.
After the 2014 season, the right-attacker signed for then league side Lycee de Nyanza (LDN) and helped the club to finish in the second place but still didn’t settle there for long. After one season, he re-joined UNIK for a second spell where he stayed for another two seasons.
He helped UNIK, who were then under Dominique Ntawangundi as head coach, to win two consecutive league titles in 2015 and 2016.
After leading UNIK to two league titles, Akumuntu along with his brother Ndamukunda, were signed by then league debutants Gisagara Volleyball Club and went on to help the club win the 2017 league title.
New season, new goals
A few weeks ago, Akumuntu joined University of Tourism Technology and Business Studies (UTB) on a two-year contract, with an incentive of a job offer as the university IT assistant.
“I am happy to be at UTB, it’s a young team with great ambitions. I am here to enjoy my career and help the team win titles,” Akumuntu told this paper.
Among his major goals of the 2018 season which starts next month, the former UNIK right-attacker wants to win the league title and KAVC among other major titles. He also says, “I would not mind being MVP of the season.”
Akumuntu and beach volleyball
The ambitious Akumuntu ventured into beach volleyball for the first time in 2015 and has since earned himself a spot among the most respected beach volleyball players in Rwanda.
Asked what would be his choice if he was forced to choose between indoor volleyball and beach volleyball, Akumuntu responded without hesitation,” I would definitely choose beach volleyball.
“There, you have much control over what happens to you since you are two players on the team than indoor volleyball where you are six,” he explained.
Since starting beach volleyball a little over two years ago, Akumuntu has won three consecutive national championships with his playing partner, Olivier Ntagengwa.
Internationally, he has represented Rwanda twice, first in Olympic Games qualifiers in 2015/2016 in Egypt and Tunisia and then in FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship qualifiers in Mozambique.
National team duties
Akumuntu was never a famous name in local volleyball until mid-2015 when he received his maiden cap in the senior national team. He surprised many when he made it to the final squad that competed at the 2015 All Africa Games held in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo where Rwanda finished fourth.
Ever since his debut, Akumuntu has never missed a call-up in the national team. He went on to feature in various international competitions such as the 2015 CAVB Africa Cup of Nations, the 2017 CAVB Africa Zone 5 Championship and again, the 2017 CAVB Africa Cup of Nations.
“I want my country to qualify for the world championship; it would really leave me a fulfilled player. Individually, I want to play professional volleyball in a more advanced league,” he acknowledged.
Akumuntu says, during his journey, there are a lot of people, who have been very supportive but he singles out his brother Olivier Maniriho for being very understanding and supportive since his earliest days in volleyball.
Others are; his former coach Ntawangundi, who he says, believed in him and his brother Ndamukunda, who also technically helped him a lot in his development as a player.