Volleyball is one of the country’s leading sports disciplines, both in performance and nurturing home-grown talents.

Over the last 25 years, volleyball has consistently produced generations of superstars and now-legends; such as Elie Mutabazi, Jean Luc Ndayikengurukiye and Eric ‘Machine’ Nsabimana.

Despite a slight decline in recent years – in terms of popularity at home and performance in the region, the game has, nonetheless, continued to unearth talents and turn them into great assets for their clubs and the national team.

In this issue, Weekend Sport looks at the meteoric rise of 22-year-old Venutse Gatsinzi, one of the best volleyball players in the country today and the skipper of local champions APR.

Early days and league debut

While growing up, volleyball was never in Gatsinzi’s plans. Instead, he used to play football until he joined Coll├Ęge George de Fox De Kagarama for his advance level studies of secondary school. But, even then, he played the sport just for fun, especially in the beginning.

“Probably I would never have played volleyball if I had not met coach Dominique Ntawangundi and national team player Vincent ‘Gasongo’ Dusabimana who encouraged me to take the sport seriously,” Gatsinzi acknowledged during an exclusive interview with this publication last week.

When I was in senior three (S3), he recalls, that is when I met Ntawangundi and Dusabimana, and they asked me my age and if I played any sport, which I innocently answered because I didn’t know who they were. From that point, they followed up on me until I joined volleyball.

Venuste Gatsinzi during an exclusive interview with Weekend Sport at The New Times head office in Kigali on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. / Photo: Dan Nsengiyumva

A few months later in 2015, Ntawangundi, who then coached two-time champions UNIK (now-defunct), approached Gatsinzi’s older brother to secure him permission to start serious volleyball training at Kimisagara Youth Centre.

The following year, after months of rigorous work in training, Gatsinzi secured his first contract with league side Umubano Blue Tigers, whom he represented for one year before joining UNIK, also on a one-year deal.

Move and success at APR

Since 2018, Gatsinzi features for army side APR and he captained them to their first league title in six years last October.

He was signed by Kenyan tactician Sammy Mulinge, who has since left the club. During this first season, he earned limited game time but, “that did not discourage me, it rather motivated me to train and work harder.”

During very season, APR finished fourth at the annual Ugandan tournament KAVC International Memorial Volleyball tournament, and fifth in the Rwanda national volleyball league.

2020, Gatsinzi assumes APR captaincy

At the start of the 2019/20 season, the newly appointed new coach Elie Mutabazi named Gatsinzi as the team’s new captain, replacing Eric Mwizere who had just left the club.

Against all odds, Gatsinzi and his youthful teammates stunned all the hopefuls in the playoffs en route to their first championship since 2014.

“2020 is a year I can never forget. Powering through the playoffs unbeaten to win our first league title in six years was an incredible achievement – for us players and for the club.”

Beach volleyball career

Besides his rapid rise in indoor volleyball, Gatsinzi also plays beach volleyball and has secured a ticket into the second round of the Tokyo Olympic Games qualifiers, alongside his teammate Fils Habanzintwari.