Coach Johnny Iwerima says beach sports need to be taken seriously in Nigeria

Coach Johnny Iwerima says beach sports need to be taken seriously in Nigeria


DOHA, October 15, 2019 - They came, they saw and they learned that beach volleyball in Nigeria needs to be taken seriously. The first ANOC World Beach Games presented a harsh reality for Coach Johnny Iwerima and his girls as they failed to win even a set in four games. But, no thanks to the regular excuse of “there is no money”, the results were a true reflection of a poor state of affairs that includes the sand on which they practice at the Murtala Square in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria.

One positive from the experience, however, is that they improved with every game, just as Coach Iwerima noted, describing their group - which had USA, Brazil, and the Czech Republic - as “the toughest group”. Regarding his side’s preparation for the World Beach Games, Iwerima said: “We did the little we could do back home in Nigeria. We camped for about ten days or thereabout.”

“This is a very massive competition; ANOC World Beach Games is almost like the Olympics, it’s just that this is for only water and beach games. Until we came here we never knew the magnitude of the competition that we are coming into, and I think it’s beautiful. Nigeria is filled with beaches - we play beach soccer, we play beach this, beach that. So I think we should take this thing seriously next time,” he observed.

It was Brazil that dealt the first blow on a hot Saturday morning in Doha, Qatar at Al-Gharafa Beach to get the women’s category of the first FIVB-sanctioned beach volleyball 4x4 tournament underway from the main court. The star-studded South American side took only 28 minutes to dispatch their West African counterparts 2-0 (21-7; 21-10).

Against the USA, a team comprising four players that claimed two silver medals on the inaugural 2019 FIVB Snow Volleyball World Tour, Nigeria fought bravely in the first set. At 5-1 down, they got five points in a row for a 5-6 lead. The score was 9-9 at some point but that was the last time they were on the same level with the USA, who went on to take the first set 21-14.

Nigeria collapsed completely in the second set, managing just four points to allow their American opponents enjoy a landslide 2-0 victory. Iwerima had hoped for better. He thought they could “shock” the USA. Then in the clash for third place in the pool, the Czechs, who had lost their previous two games, registered their first win at Qatar 2019 with a 2-0 (21-16, 21-16) victory over Nigeria.

Coach Iwerima’s charges met Canada - who had suffered a shock defeat to Vanuatu in their first game - in the quarter-finals. The North Americans played a strong first set for a 21-11 win. But Nigeria fought back to open a two-point lead in the second set. Canada then recovered quickly and looked like they were running away with victory, but Nigeria’s Francisca Ikhiede held them back with her serves to level the score at 20-20 and push it into overtime. Canada still claimed the win in the end at 2-0 (21-11, 22-20). Ikhiede got as many as five aces.

“Nigeria is ranked high in Africa in beach soccer, beach volleyball, any thing that has got to do with beach, beach wrestling, everything. So we need to take it to the next level. If perhaps we thought it was just a joke, this event has enlightened me more to know that this is massive,” Coach Iwerima emphasised.

He added: “There is a serious drive with the present board led by Engineer Musa Nimrod. He is a visionary he has passion for volleyball and beach volleyball in particular. If you are conversant with what is happening in Nigeria now, beach volleyball is taking over… so I think it’s just a matter of time.

“We just had a training where we had 25 coaches, almost the whole states (in Nigeria) were represented. So these coaches have gone back to their states to groom players in beach volleyball. At the last National Youth Games (in September) in Ilorin, there were young players playing beach volleyball. It starts from there. Mind you, it’s not a magic wand so gradually we will get there,” he assured.

The last time Nigeria won anything of note in beach volleyball was in 2015 at the All Africa Games in Congo Brazaville. This year they could not defend their title in Rabat, Morocco as they lost to Kenya in the quarter-finals. The event in Morocco also served as a qualifier for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Their noteworthy achievements this year was qualifying for their maiden Beach Volleyball World Championships in Hamburg, where they finished joint 37th after losing all their three group games, as well as making a first-time impressive appearance on snow. The six players that represented Nigeria at the World Beach Games are; Tochukwu Nnoruga, Isabela Eyetsonetan, Amara Uchechukwu, Francisca Ikhiede, Maryann Kelechukwu and Abigail Abba.

Source: AIPS