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Flying the flag high in Israel

Volleyball’s rising star

As a youngster Igobe Sikuku never loved volleyball.

In fact this lanky lad’s first love was high jump.

However at 20 years of age the young man was introduced to volleyball, decided to give it a chance and went on to excel at it.

Since then he has not only played in the league in Botswana and made a few appearances in the national team colours, but Sikuku has also joined the few local players to turn professional.

Under the books of Hapoel Jerusalem volleyball team in Israel, Sikuku achieved a rare feat last week breaking through into the top five best attackers in the league.

This week, Voice Reporter Baitshepi Sekgweng had a chat with the 28- year- old Tutume native about his soaring professional sports career.

Take us through your journey in volleyball?

My commitment to volleyball started at the age of 20.

I grew up loving high jump which is why I never paid so much attention to volleyball and truth be told I never really loved volleyball.

At senior secondary school I met Coach Omaatla Maretlwaneng who pushed me every day but I felt I was too weak for the sport, which made it difficult for me because everyone expected a lot from me cause of my height (204cm).

I couldn’t meet people’s expectations and that caused me stage fright, which is why I preferred high jump because I was better at it.

And then the turn around point came at a track and field even in Maun stadium where I met Odirile Sibanda.

I was on the high jump team but afterwards he approached me and we had a long chat.

He told me about the opportunity to become a professional athlete and about volleyball in detail.

My interest was piqued!

What happened afterwards?

I trained for six months with Sibanda but later joined Mascom Volleyball League outfit, Diphatsa coached by George Leabaneng.

That was in 2015 but I was a ball boy at the club.

That very same year I started my Apprenticeship programme at Debswana Mine in Orapa so I had to move and there was no volleyball club in Orapa to train with so I had to do it alone.

In 2016 I still on the bench at Diphatsa but I was called up to the national team where I met coach Manuel Torres who told me that I was not ready to be part of the team therefore I should just continue to practice and I did exactly that.

How did you end up at Yaros Olympic Club?

At the beginning of 2017 there was another national team call up where Coach Emmanuel Torres told me the same words but still that didn’t break me.

Mid 2017 I managed to get some playing time under coach Daniel Ngozi at Diphatsa, and he gave me a chance to learn and make mistakes.

However in 2018 I moved to Yaros where I met Sibanda.

That was the year I made it to the 12-men squad, which represented Botswana at the Africa Nations Championships in Egypt under, coach Leabaneng.

My second and last time to represent the national team was in 2019 under the leadership of Shadereck Kapeko.

At some point you played for Kuwait, what happened there?

Before Africa Nations Championships I was talking-to some guys in Japan for trials and they accepted me.

From the event I went to Japan for the trials but while I was there I strained my patellar tendinitis so I couldn’t keep up.

So I failed because of injury and came back home.

After a month I got an offer from Ally Sahel Club in Kuwait and I signed though I was at 70% recovery.

I stayed there for a month and half but I experienced VISA issue and left the country to try to resolve them.

But then covid-19 hit and the league stopped and my contract was terminated.

From early 2020 until August 2021 I was home until I signed for Hapoel Jerusalem.

You are currently plying your trade in Israel, take us through that move and tell us how the experience is?

I ended up being here through my volleyball Agent who sent my CV and game tapes to Hapoel Jerusalem club and they approved me.

So my experience here is really great because this is my first successful professional contract and I am really happy with my performance.

Despite the setbacks I had encountered I managed to fight my way back up.

As it stands you are among the top five attackers in the league, what’s your secret?

When I came here my aim was to make it to Top 10 scorers.

I achieved that and adjusted my goal to top 7, which I managed as well.

I pushed it further to top 5 and I am currently ranked 5th.

My secret is just hard work because I told myself that; “God will never put anything I can’t manage in front of me.”

How difficult or easy is it playing in a foreign league?

It comes with taking responsibilities during games.

Local players look up to us, we have to lead the Israeli players, and coaches expect 120% effort from us every single day.

That’s the general expectation in sports from foreign players; you must give your all.

What has been your greatest moment so far in Israel?

My greatest moment was when I was the Most Valuable Player of the preseason tournament.

To me that’s a big achievement, something I am proud of because it creates a good reputation about Botswana in general.

Everything I do here I do it such that Botswana will always be remembered.

That way it will make it easier for the next Motswana player when they come here.

What do you aim to achieve by the end of this season?

My aim is to keep the high ranking and protect it by playing as hard as I can.

It is going to make it easy for me to move to other teams, since that’s what they look at when they choose or scout players.

So actually I want to get my scoring rate higher.

You seem to be having luck at playing outside the country, what does it take for someone to be a professional player?

Playing professional is not an easy task, yes it’s fun here and there but it comes with serious discipline.

Everyone can be professional but not everyone can stay professional.

Body conditioning, good sleeping habits and eating healthy are very key because that is what builds you as a player.

You have been part of Botswana volleyball setup for some time but our national team performance has declined in the past years, where are we lacking and what should be done for improvement?

I think our volleyball culture has to change a bit to promote and improve professionalism to help both individual players grow and the national team in general.

I personally feel our national team is not given enough of what it needs for it to perform better.

Teams like Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Cameroon are professional so you can’t expect to win against such teams from less than a month preparation.

Where do you want to see yourself in the next few years in your volleyball career?

I want to play In France, Poland and Italy because they have the best volleyball teams and their leagues are highly competitive.

Also there is big money involved, remember it’s a short term job opportunity.

Who inspires you?

My mother inspires me a lot because she is a strong woman.

Thank God it’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?

I am not an outgoing person so I spend most of my time in my little space passing time on social media.

When I am home I chill with my family.