BENITHA Mukandayisenga almost collected every title she and her club – the University of Tourism, Technology and Business Studies (UTB) – contested for in the 2018/2019 season.
For her, as she says: “This will forever be my breakthrough season.”
The 24-year-old did not only power UTB to their first title of the national women volleyball championship – on first attempt – but was also named the Most Valuable Player (MVP).
It goes without saying that she, also, was the league’s top-scorer.
This week, Saturday Sport’s Damas Sikubwabo caught up with the Rwanda international about her rapid rise – from humble beginnings – to becoming one of the finest volleyball stars in the country.
The third child from a family of four, three girls and one boy, Mukandayisenga was born on June 26, 1995 in Ngoma District, of Eastern Province, to Deogratias Turatsinze (RIP) and Annonciata Mujejeyesu.
She currently is in her first year pursuing a degree in hotel management at UTB.
As a child, she says, Mukandayisenga never thought she would become a star volleyball player until she joined Saint Aloys, a secondary school based in Rwamagana District, in 2013, where the Sport was the most popular.
“I was nudged into the sport by the school. Before that, I used to love and follow football more than volleyball. It had never occurred to me that I would one day turn into an obsessed sportswoman that I am today” she narrated to Saturday Sport on Thursday.
During her four years with Saint Aloys, where she majored in languages in Advanced Level of her secondary studies, she helped to turn the school into one of the best in girls volleyball in the country, arguably only behind Ruhango-based GS Indangaburenzi.
“Eugene Ngendahayo is the one who spotted me and believed I could thrive in volleyball than I could ever do in football. That is how my volleyball journey started.”
At the time, Ndengahayo was the head coach of Saint Aloys volleyball teams.
Mukandayisenga capped her youth career (school competitions) with two titles of the national inter-schools championships in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
After completing her second school studies, and putting an end to her youth volleyball career, the left-attacker was immediately signed by former champions APR on a one-year deal.
During her one (2017/2018) season with the army side, she helped them to win the 2018 Rutsindura Memorial Tournament, in Huye District, and Nyerere Cup, in Tanzania, before finishing second in the national league.
Switch to UTB
“I felt I needed a different challenge,” she responded when asked about her departure from APR after just one season.
Since joining UTB late last year, Mukandayisenga is undoubtedly the best player in indoor volleyball, in the country, and one of Africa’s best in beach volleyball.
Besides inspiring UTB to the league title last month, the hard-hitting spiker – along with UTB teammate Charlotte Nzayisenga – finished third at this year’s Beach Volleyball Africa Cup of Nations in Nigeria, in April, from where they qualified for the 2019 Beach Volleyball World Championships, held from June 28 to July 6 in Hamburg, Germany.
However, Mukandayisenga did not play the world championships, and was replaced by Judith Hakizimana, after the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) ruled that she was ineligible.
According to FIVB, Mukandayisenga did not meet the required minimum number of international competitions a player must have featured in to be eligible for world championships.
And, rightly so, the Africa Cup of Nations was her first international tournament.
Apart from the coveted league title, Mukandayisenga also helped Sylvester Mbanza’s UTB side to claim titles of the preseason tournament, the National Heroes tournament as well as Kayumba Memorial Tournament.
But, even with all the success in one season, Mukandayisenga remains modest and is always quick to credit it to team effort rather than her role in the accolades.
“Volleyball is a team sport. I contribute to the success of the team as much as any other player on the court.”
Mukandayisenga is set for professional trials in Europe, for a duration of three months, starting next month. She will first train in Turkey, then Bulgaria before being assessed if she is deserving of a contract for the 2019/2020 season.
Should she pass the tests, the soft spoken spiker will become the first Rwandan women to play professional volleyball in Europe.