• Moulding a team is the hardest assignment for any coach because in most cases there are a myriad of challenges at the beginning of any project.
• What makes GSU a nightmare to teams is their flexibility and adaptability, says coach Tarus
The General Service Unit (GSU) volleyball team will be making a fifth stab at the national title in the playoffs set for Nyayo Stadium this weekend after a topsy-turvy and grueling season.
Their campaign has cut through in a razzle-dazzle style to provide the archetypal moments that led to their dominance in the last four years.
The paramilitary team, known for their steeliness and mental toughness, have had one of their toughest seasons since 2018 largely because of the competitiveness of the league.
Lucky wins against both newbies Trail Blazers and Equity Bank were decided with the fifth set while the 3-0 surprise loss to Kenya Ports Authority in the sixth leg was only a blip.
There's growing momentum and weighty expectations firmly placed on the broad shoulders of the players who have become a pillar at both the club level and the national team.
GSU's success is down to coach Gideon Tarus who has single-handedly assumed the responsibility and elevated the team to another level.
"Moulding a team is the hardest assignment for any coach because in most cases, there are myriad of challenges at the beginning of any project," Tarus opines.
"I'm grateful, however, that GSU players are disciplined. They listen to me irrespective of their rank and our relationship on and off the field is cordial," the 45-year-old Tarus reflects with a chuckle adding:
"Having many players on a professional stint overseas has been a decisive resource for the team. It is easy to adopt the European modern playing style. GSU have been perennial participants in the African Club Championship.
“This has not only contributed to our success but inspired self-confidence in the players and exposed them to high-pressure environments."
Setter Brian Melly and middle blocker Simon Kipkorir 'Kosirai' are among the GSU players who have gained experience playing abroad.
Melly, who joined Albanian side Partizan Tirana on a three-month contract at the end of January, is back in the GSU star-studded squad and in line for a starting role in the playoffs.
Kosirai was the captain of the Kenyan champions before his move to Saudi Arabia's top-tier side Al Ibtisam volleyball club also in January. The experienced centre player who made his national team debut in 2017 in the African Cup of Nations Cairo, Egypt, was and is still a mainstay in the team.
Abiud Chirchir has conquered the volleyball courts of France where he established himself as an undroppable player for Grand Nancy after quitting Tunisia's Olympic Club of Kelibia.
Aside from the trio, Naftali Chumba, Nicholas Matui, Emmanuel Kogo, Shadrack Misiko, and Bonfetry Wekesa have proved invaluable to the side.
While their rivals in the playoffs, Kenya Prisons, Trail Blazers and KPA will be panicking and crafting systems and formations to derail GSU's march to a fifth straight title, their peerless performance will need some magic to stop if GSU's quality is to be relied upon.
"What makes GSU a nightmare to teams is our flexibility and adaptability. Once we analyse our opponents and know their strengths and weaknesses, it becomes easier to handle them," Tarus the father of three highlights.
"We found the right balance, cultivated a winning culture while maintaining intensity and rhythm of play."
Tarus started playing volleyball in primary school at his leisure. The interest grew through secondary school where he managed to play twice at the national school games.
The serial-winning tactician then joined KCB in 1997 but left the bankers for a new challenge with GSU the following year. He graduated from the Recruits Training School in 1999, won his first title with GSU in 2001 and amassed 19 years of experience playing for GSU before retiring in 2018.
His coaching career took off in 2008 when he was appointed an assistant coach to Moses Epoloto who was also his mentor.
"I wanted to enroll for a refereeing course but after soul searching, I settled on coaching."
It wasn't long before Tarus faced his first real test after being appointed to coach in 2010.
"Epoloto was banned in 2010 and that forced me to take the mantle when I was not so prepared. It was a tough call for me, being inexperienced and the challenge of guiding the team to the playoffs was a whole new experience for me."
Though the demanding gaffer won the title in 2012, losing to perennial rivals Kenya Prisons a year before was a low moment for him.
"Losing to eternal rivals was so scary. The demands of the management were so high and it was hard to explain how and why the team lost. When a team loses, the manager is usually in the spotlight, so I had to carry the cross for the team."
"Worrying couldn't change the outcome but a stronger comeback was urgently needed. I learnt that something constructive comes from a defeat so I had to pull up my socks."
The keen-to-detail tactician has won six titles (2012, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021). While he never played for the men's national team, Wafalme, Tarus has served as an assistant to both Gideon Chenje (2013-14) and Geoffrey Omondi in 2015.
Last year, Tarus was named the Wafalme head coach. He was tasked with preparing the team for the Africa Nations Championship in Rwanda. With less than 10 days of preparations for the bi-annual event, it was surprising to see the team pull off a historic win in the continental showpiece against Egypt.
"I did not expect that. The positive energy from the team made it possible. Players wanted to discredit the notion that North African countries are superior to others. "
Tarus tipped the duo of Naftali Chumba and Joshua Kimaru for greatness. He said while he has been privileged to handle big players in the past, the pair has what it takes to rise to stardom.
"Chumba has been crucial this season and is just upcoming. Kimaru has been unlucky with the injury previously but he is the present and future of this team."
"The aim is to win the title, nothing else. People ruled us out and poked holes in our performance but we remained committed to the course. Now we have to deliver when it matters most."
If the seventh leg win over Prisons Nyanza was a triumph over adversity, resilience, and willpower, then the 3-0 thrashing of Kenya Prisons in the ultimate match of the regular season fell into the category of a powerful statement of intent for GSU.
Whether KPA or the dark horses, Trail Blazers can stop Chirchir and company remains to be seen.