How setter Igihozo defied odds on her way to volleyball stardom

Yvette Cyuzuzo Igihozo (#9), skipper of champions UTB, previously played for APR and Ruhango in the women's national volleyball league. / File photo.

YVETTE Cyuzuzo Igihozo is arguably the best female setter in domestic volleyball today and one of the best the country has seen in the last decade.

But, her rise to the top was not without challenges. In fact, on top of what others have to overcome on their way up, Igihozo also battled asthma complications from childhood but that did not deter her from reaching her full potential in the sport she calls her passion.

 

How she leads and organises her team on the court, especially when the other team is serving, has been credited as the strength behind UTB over the last two years.

 

Igihozo, 29, is the skipper of the University of Technology Business Studies (UTB) women’s volleyball club, champions of the 2018-19 league and runaway leaders of the 2019-20 season.

 

Speaking to Times Sport in an exclusive interview, the Rwanda international recalled that “growing up with asthma, I really did not think I would be able to play anything, let alone a demanding sport like volleyball. I had to carry a nebuliser with me everywhere.”

“There were so many barriers along the way that could have stopped me from playing. Even my illness would have enough excuse, but I did not give up. I was motivated to push from one level to another until I made it to the top.”

Today, Igihozo is not a volleyball star, but her career has also afforded her education from secondary school, university to a master’s degree and currently also serves a lecturer at the very university she plays for.

“I have achieved so much through volleyball that I also sometimes struggle to believe it. The sport did not earn me education and a job, but it also fixed my asthma. I believe I don’t have the disease anymore, I have not had breathing difficulties or used a nebuliser in a very long time.”

“The more I worked hard, [I think] my lungs started opening up wider and adapted to taking in enough oxygen. That is the best explanation I have for it.”

Early days and rise to stardom

Football was Igihozo’s first love as far as sport is concerned but that came to change when she joined Indangaburenzi secondary school, in Ruhango District of the Southern Province, where volleyball was the most popular sport.

After one year of formal training and learning from her seniors, Igihozo started representing the school in inter-schools championships and she would later play for and captain Ruhango women’s volleyball club in the national league.

In 2012, Igihozo joined former league giants APR where she played for two seasons before signing with Ugandan side Sport S, in 2015, while she pursued her master’s programme at Kampala International University.

Upon arrival back in the country, two years later, she rejoined APR for another two seasons before she was lured by then newly formed side UTB women’s volleyball club in late 2018.

2018-19 season

“Without a doubt, this was my best season,” says Igihozo who captained UTB to a historic first league title in their maiden season in the national league, ending a seven-year dominance of archrivals Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA).

The Kicukiro-based outfit also claimed the Preseason Tournament, Kayumba Memorial, Ubutwari Cup as well as the Carre d’As title the same season.

In the 2019-20 campaign, which is suspended since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, UTB have so far retained two titles – the preseason and Ubutwari Cup. However, they lost the Kayumba Memorial to RRA.

The celebrated setter made her international debut in September 2010. She was a key member of the Rwanda women’s junior team at the African U-20 Championships in Tunisia.

pkamasa@newtimesrwanda.com

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