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Basketball: Will KCCA Leopards end league trophy drought?

Martha Soigi (L) of KCCA Leopards goes past UCU Lady Canons’ Vilma Achieng in the 2016 National Basketball League finals

Martha Soigi (L) of KCCA Leopards goes past UCU Lady Canons’ Vilma Achieng in the 2016 National Basketball League finals

It is finally here! The much-anticipated women’s National Basketball League (NBL) clash between defending champions JKL Lady Dolphins and KCCA Leopards will finally take place on Good Friday, March 29 at the Lugogo indoor stadium.

This is a game that had earlier been scheduled for March 15, only to be called off because JKL were missing one of their star forwards, Becky Longom. She had been summoned for national duty.

Longom won her first championship with JKL last season, after crossing from KCCA. That decision could not have been more inspired, looking at what resulted from it. When Longom joined KCCA, she had been brought in to supplement or even be the heir apparent to Martha Soigi, who is currently the longest-serving player at KCCA.

However, that was not materialised. In fact, while Longom and Soigi are quite similar in structure; big, tall and domineering in the paint, using their height to out-rebound a host of their opponents, their fortunes could not be more contrasting. This year, KCCA will be marking an infamous decade without a league title if they do not win come the end of the year, and Soigi has had to agonizingly live through that horror.

“To be honest, it has been tough and haunting. At times I have thought of retiring from the sport because of the disappointment. Yet, the passion has also driven me on to give it another go,” Soigi said. Last season, particularly, was so painful. KCCA started off by beating the 2022 finalists, UCU Lady Canons and even JKL.

It all looked rosy for them. Would 2023 prove to be the year, when they end their trophy drought? Yet, as it turned out, they were blown away by a largely inexperienced UCU in the quarter-finals, losing 2-0 in the best of three series.

Soigi recalls: “Well, after losing game one, we thought it was a mere bad day at the office, but to be beaten hands down by the second quarter, was unbelievable.”

Perhaps it is in the same breath, that Soigi cannot figure out how they came from a winning side between 2007 and 2014, to becoming a backwater side. Soigi won three championships before with KCCA in 2009, 2013 and 2014. Alongside her, were the likes of shooter Becky Akullo, Flavia Oketcho and Monica Siima, among others.

And one thing she does not deny, is that KCCA are hungry for this one, beginning with the clash against their main nemeses, JKL. KCCA have already got a wake-up call this season, after they recently lost to the Miracle Ravens, 76-75 for their only loss in ten games.

Conversely, JKL have followed on from their flourish of last season, that saw them beat KIU Rangers 4-1 in the best of seven series finals. Right now, JKL have won all their six league games. However, JKL, even with their quality, are yet to meet any opposition as tough as KCCA, who have beefed up with the likes of free-scoring guard, Maureen Amoding, Ninette Uwineza, Perus Nyamwenge and Maggie Baagala, the She Cranes netball star, who has been in high-scoring form lately.

With such a find among others, Soigi believes that her coach Roger Sserunyigo has assembled a fine side, that is ready to blossom. Sserunyigo was part of KCCA’s 2016 and 2017 finals losses. But he is no quitter, just as his player Amoding, who was part of the team, then, too, but won nothing. Yet, Amoding won with UCU three times between 2010 and 2013.

“I feel I have unfinished business with KCCA since I never won there. The game against JKL is certainly one we are looking forward to with glee and the utmost anticipation,” Amoding said, as she hopes it culminates into a 2024 championship, to end the suffering KCCA has had to endure for a decade.

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