Despite its rampant struggles and declining performance – for national teams – in recent years, volleyball remains one of the country’s most popular sports, probably only fourth to football, cycling and basketball.
Over the years, local volleyball has produced generations of star sportsmen and women, and it continues to do so.
Names such as Eric ‘Machine’ Nsabimana, Elie Mutabazi, Jean Luc Ndayikengurukiye, Lawrence Yakan or the current national team captain, Christophe Mukunzi, will be remembered for generations to come; not just as volleyball legends but also as some of the finest sportsmen – across all disciplines – Rwanda has produced over the last 25 years.
Today, there is a new class of exceptional talents and the future looks bright.
This week, Saturday Sport’s Damas Sikubwabo had a one-on-one with Prince Kanamugire, one of the most promising talents who, at 21, has already caught the attention of the senior national team coaches.
Kanamugire was part of the provisional 18-man squad that was summoned to prepare for the regional Africa Zone 5 Nations Championships in May. However, the sensational middle blocker did not make it to the final team.
Born and raised in Ngoma District, Eastern Province, Kanamugire says he has never tried any other sport, and that allowed him to focus on volleyball from early age.
“I grew up watching volleyball, and it was only normal that I took it up. I never picked interest to try any other sport,” said Kanamugire.
Currently in his second year pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Tourism and Travel Management at the University of Tourism, Technology and Business Studies (UTB), the APR volleyball star looks up to former Rwanda international Pierre Marshal Kwizera and Fred Musoni – both celebrated middle blockers – as his idols on local scene.
Kanamugire recalls that back in primary school he used to play mini- volleyball (a three-member team play) as his school – St Therese PS – never had a volleyball team. And then he joined Saint Aloys, a Rwamagana-based secondary school, in 2012; that is when he started playing ‘real volleyball’.
But despite the drive and passion, Kanamugire did not have the easiest start to life in volleyball since the school had more senior players, hence most of the time playing as a substitute, and at times not playing at all.
“It was tough,” he narrates. “Earning a few minutes in competitive matches was very hard, let alone a starting position. There were many senior players on my position.”
After his Ordinary Level (O’Level) studies, in 2014, Kanamugire was invited to train with APR by head coach Sammy Mulinge, and like they say; the rest is history.
The then 16-year old immediately switched school from Saint Aloys to Saint Patrick, based in Kicukiro District, and would make his national volleyball league debut with the army side in 2015.
Four years down the road, Kanamugire has not only moved up the ladder from a struggling rookie to the club’s biggest asset, but he is also widely considered as an upcoming volleyball superstar for the national team.
His current contract with the former local volleyball giants – who last won the league title in 2014 – runs out in 2021.
The soft spoken player, who is 2-metre tall, inspired APR to the 2017 Genocide Memorial Volleyball Tournament triumph after beating Rwanda Energy Group in the final.
Also in 2017, he helped the black-and-white outfit to the KAVC International Memorial Volleyball Tournament, in Kampala, Uganda, after edging organizers KAVC in a five-set thriller.
The seven-time domestic league champions finished in fifth position last season.
“I am open to Pro offers”
Kanamugire insists that he is happy at APR, and the club will always be home, but he is also open to offers from professional teams aboard.
“As a sportsman, my wish is to keep developing, improve and become a better player. I am happy at APR but if I get an opportunity – which I believe I will – to play in a more competitive league, I would grab it without any hesitation.”