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Why Leonas are attracting young players

Leonas could be the next big thing in hockey

The team is made up of ambitious, talented and energetic girls willing to learn and prosper in the sport. Orange

In Summary

•Leonas, popularly known as the Mambas, became the second team to clinch promotion in their first time of asking after finishing second in the Super League in the 2019 season.

•Leonas were formed in order to create a learning platform for upcoming female athletes under a development program courtesy of Tom Olal, who is the head coach and Erik Van Der Dussen.

Yvette Kanyadong of Orange Leonas (L) tries top stop Amira Sailors' Sheila Nekesa (L) in a past match.
Yvette Kanyadong of Orange Leonas (L) tries top stop Amira Sailors' Sheila Nekesa (L) in a past match.
Image: ERICK BARASA

They might only be in their second year in active hockey since inception in 2018 but Orange Leonas’ upward trajectory has been the talk of town. 

As opposed to other teams that recruit players just for the sake of it, largely because of lack of proper planning and long term ambitions, Leonas’ recruitment policy is thorough and strategic.

Arguably the youngest team in the women’s Premier League, the team is made up of ambitious, talented and energetic girls willing to learn and prosper in the sport. 

 

Orange is part of the development side composing of the U-9, U-14 and U-20 age group team levels. They have a panel of coaches, who are actively involved in nurturing the teams and work as a team.

Leonas, popularly known as the Mambas, became the second team to clinch promotion in their first time of asking after finishing second in the Super League in the 2019 season.

Kisumu’s Lakers were the first team to do so in 2018 and finished fourth last year in the top tier. If Leonas’ meteoritical rise is part of an ambitious project by the David Omwaka-tutored side to dominate the local scene in the coming years, then the early indicators are promising and it won’t be long before we see the team fight for trophies.

Leonas were formed in order to create a learning platform for upcoming female athletes under a development program courtesy of Tom Olal, who is the head coach and Erik Van Der Dussen.

Olal is the former national women’s team coach and highly experienced in matters coaching. Dussen and Boudewijn Rip are the Dutchmen who provide equipment for the team.

The Kenya Hockey Union have a hand in the team as well, making it a unique outfit. Jackie Atieno and Linet Lucinde are team manager and assistant respectively.

The players have always played a role in contributing towards the team’s expenses with support from the Dutchmen. Parents are also on board as the team seek to form partnership with potential corporates.

 

Orange was formed to ease the transition of youngsters to competitive hockey since the first set of players found it hard to fit in other teams due to age factor.

It was necessary to form a team that could offer a favourable environment for the young high school players, who were part of the development program . This was easy because they had already bonded from the very beginning of the program.

The team was formed in order to create a learning platform for upcoming female players. Besides, the objective of program which started in 2018, was to give young talent a chance of leadership in their own environment.

The success of the program has ostensibly been due to the fact that the two coaches have been tried and tested and established their own club when they were young. Olal and Omwaka were among the founders of Parkroad Badgers who made swift return to the men’s Premier League after a single season in the second tier in 2019.

Team manager Jackie is an Iconic figure and a founder of Blazers Hockey club, formerly Telkom— the most successful team in the country both locally and continentally. Leonas are the only team that broke the women’s Super League record by scoring the highest number of goals in a single match.

The team put six goals past the Technical University of Kenya last season. Apart from that, the Mambas also produced the 2019 season top scorer and the youngest captain in the 2020 season Premier League in the mould of Sheila Chenany.

In a virtual interview with the 21-year-old captain said: “Oranje Leonas is unique because we look up to two top international teams that is oranje Leonas-Netherlands and Las Leonas-Argentina hence the reason why we adopted the name,” she openly remarked.

“We are unique because we develop players from an early age—no club does that. Ours is a story which goes beyond the sport. It’s about a group of young girls who grew up together and hockey happens to be the seal that makes us complete. We feel our style of play is different and brings uniqueness in the sport. It is a set of goal-oriented young players focused on academics but also  skilled, disciplined and hard-working,” she observed.

Leonas aim is to nurture young talent and ensure they get performance-based training, where learners can evaluate their progress.

The Mambas vision is to remain in season permanently once they blossom. This is ostensibly due to the feeder program that is constantly being developed. It is basically the positivity of the young minds that goes incognito.

“We embrace and believe in the virtue of hard work. We never settle for less as we are accountable in everything we do and always strive to give our best. We are a young talented family who never give up easily and a family that our opponents will sweat blood to beat. Young players tend to be attracted to Leonas because we are a young, friendly, dedicated and hardworking family willing to stretch our   limits.”

“The friendly and family environment makes it easy for them to fit and express themselves freely. Our coaches are always ready to put in work which ensures younger athletes are able to fulfil their potential. The fact that Leonas comprises of younger players of between the age of 16 and 24 creates a perfect environment for the players to thrive without fear or discrimination.”

To the Mambas, promotion throwing the first generation development players at the deep end to test them with a view of catapulting them to elite level.

Their current top tier status will be a great platform for the athletes to learn as much as they can. How, it’s not going to be business as usual for Leonas because they to do more in terms of hard work,   mental strength and delivery if they are to avoid the first season relegation.

“We are at a phase where the odds are against us considering the young age and little experience in the squad. But regardless of what we believe, we have what it takes to give Kenyan hockey a different face and I believe we can. It is a journey that we have started and ready to embrace and I see ourselves growing into the best athletes and fulfilling our Olympics dream. Our priority for the 2020 season is to play to the best of our capability and be accountable for every step in the senior league.”

Leonas began the season in an unconvincing style losing 3-0 to high-flying Thomas Mucheni-led Sailors. However, Chenany believes the tide will chane for the better as the management continues to monitor individual player training and progress amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Losing is always exciting because it means we have different ways of getting better. It means there are certain things we could figure out and take advantage of and weaknesses we need to shore up. It sucks to lose but at the same time there are answers in there.”

“When you have something to prove, there’s nothing greater than a challenge. Whether you have to prove to the critics wrong or make a point, you have to keep going. If you can be intimidated, then you can be defeated and If you don’t back down from any challenge, then you have the opportunity to win and that is the careful approach Leonas are taking.”

“Having lost our first match, the players have to reflect on the way forward. We have organised for their personal training program which they need follow during this Covid-19 pandemic period. The captain and the coaches are monitoring training to ensure players stay fit as we await to resume the league. The transition is complex and it is a phase where we believe we should train more harder,” a thoughtful captain highlighted.

“When you are competing, you must first defeat your own limitations before you can beat your opponent. Leonas are working tirelessly to deal with their inadequacies. The thing that sets champions apart from everyone else is the work ethic and the mental fortitude to succeed. When you take a hit— whether literal or figurative, it takes a lot of mental strength to get back up,” she noted.

“For us, it is a phase that is extremely demanding and we have to incorporate new strategies which will be beneficial to our performance and progression of individual player’s tactical skills.

“We believe in the near future, we will be dependable not only in the sport but also in other psychological attributes and behaviour. “It is more difficult to stay at the top than to get there. Therefore Leonas are keen to repay the hard work put in by the coaches.

“For the team, winning is not a short time agenda. It’s an all time duty because you don’t have to do things right once but should instead make it a routine.”

Chenany said the playing unit is firmly behind the technical bench who are inspirational. “Players believe the ratio of what they are taught is more or equal to what the coaches were taught in their playing and coaching careers.”

“Our coaches are always dependable and very patient. They are like our hockey parents and we owe it  to them. They always want us to progress not only in the sports but also in academics. Though they are very strict we cherish their input in our lives. The cordial relationship that exists between us has made it easier to express ourselves without fear.”

Once the league resumes, Leonas will take it one game at a time and accountability from the players will be crucial to their season.

Whether they will be the dark horses in the title challenge this season remains to be seen but one thing is for sure— with time and patience, Leonas could be the next big thing in hockey.