Despite ceding the ‘regional powerhouse’ status to Kenya in the recent times, it would be a huge mistake to talk about sports in Rwanda and you forget mentioning volleyball. It remains one of the country’s leading sports disciplines, especially in nurturing home-grown talents.
Over the years, volleyball has produced some of the most famous names in Rwanda.
For someone who cares to follow the goings-on in local sports, legendary names such as Eric ‘Machine’ Nsabimana, Elie Mutabazi, Lawrence Yakan and Jean Luc Ndayikengurukiye need no introduction.
Fred Musoni (R) spent the 2014-15 season with then debutants Rayon Sports before embarking on his professional career in Finiland. File.
However, today, there is a new generation of volleyball stars and legends in the making. Fred Musoni is one of the prominent names in that group, and is one of the only two Rwandans who ply their trades overseas.
Saturday Sport this week had a one-on-one with Musoni, widely seen as one of the best middle blockers of the last decade in Rwanda, and East Africa.
But, who is Musoni?
Born on August 25 1992 in Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Musoni is the third born in a family of nine children. He is a bachelor’s degree holder from Mount Kenya University, in Logistics Management.
He revealed to this publication that, as a rookie volleyball player, he looked up to Pierre Marshal Kwizera, Flavien Ndamukunda and Eric Nsabimana for inspiration.
Before picking interest in volleyball, Musoni used to play football, and just like any other kid, his dream was to become a professional footballer.
Musoni was drawn into football since childhood, and featured for his primary school team and also played it in junior years of secondary school until he gave in to the influence of his brother and friends who played volleyball, and their coach, at Nyagatare Secondary School.
But it was not until 2011 that he would acquire his first league licence with former league giants APR and started being called up in the national teams.
“It was not an easy debut. It required absolute discipline and consistency; but most importantly it required hard work,” narrates Musoni.
“But I was determined for whatever it had to take me.”
During his first year in the top tier volleyball league, he was selected on the Under-21 national team, under Brazilian coach Paulo de Talso, that traveled to Brazil for a three-month training camp prior to the 2011 Africa U21 Men’s Volleyball Championship.
At the continental tournament, held in Libya, Rwanda finished in fourth position after losing to Egypt in semi-finals.
The sensational middle blocker spent four seasons with APR, and captained them to two league crowns and several other titles before crossing to then debutants, and now-defunct, Rayon Sports.
But despite the good memories and success with the army side, the club accused want-away Musoni of breaching his contract and the player was suspended by the local volleyball federation for that entire 2014/2015 season.
“It was not the best departure after four years but I wanted to go. I needed a new experience, and new challenges. However, APR remains very close to my heart, and maybe one day I will be back home,” said the Rwanda international.
Although he was barred from competing in the league, Musoni trained with the Blues daily and was allowed to play for the club in other competitions. He even, with them, won the 2015 Genocide Memorial Tournament (GMT) title.
However, after that difficult season, it was also the end of his one-year deal with Rayon, and he would soon land a contract with Finnish side Liiga Riento.
“I will always be grateful for national team captain Christophe [Mukunzi], he recommended me the agent who helped me to find a team abroad. That it is how I joined Liiga Riento.”
“When I first arrived in Finland, I was met by Kenyan spiker Michael Chemos who helped me to quickly integrate in the league and new culture. It was a tough first season.”
Fred Musoni, 26, seen here during a past training session with the national team at Amahoro Stadium. File.
After two years, in 2017, with the team, the club changed its name from Liiga Riento to Karelian Humos, and Musoni was offered a new contract, which expired last month.
Though he was not able to win any trophy with the club, Musoni says he’s happy that he helped them to avoid relegation during his four-year stint there.
Currently, he is out of contract and is open to offers. He says he will soon announce where he will head next.
Duties with national teams
The former APR skipper is one of the players that progressed from the U21 to U23 levels before featuring for the senior national team.
Musoni, who has played over 60 games with different national teams, was part of the U21 team that played the 2013 FIVB U21 Men’s World Championships in Ankara, Turkey, after finishing third in African championships earlier that year.
He has also represented the country at senior Africa Nations Championships finals three times, with the latest being the 2017 edition in Egypt where Rwanda finished sixth.
In 2013-2014, he played a crucial role in propelling the senior national team to the final round of qualifiers for the 2014 World Championship, which was won by the hosts Poland after defeating then holders Brazil in the final. Rwanda never qualified for the global event.
Musoni was also a regular when Rwanda finished fourth at the 2015 All-Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville.
Playing volleyball, especially with the national team, has enabled Musoni to travel to several countries such as Qatar, Brazil, South Africa, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Cameroun, Algeria and Turkey to name a few.
How do people describe him?
His former coach, Christophe Mudahinyuka, describes Musoni as a “fun-to-be-around, hard-working, and humble man who always seeks the best out of people.”
“He never abuses his star status.”