Yvonne Mugwaneza (RWA)

Rwanda's Yvonne Mugwaneza celebrated her birthday and turned 15 just a day before the start of the FIVB Volleyball Women’s U20 World Championship, making her the youngest player at this year’s edition of the competition.

“Being here feels like a real miracle to me! This is the first big competition I am playing at, and I am so happy and thankful,” Yvonne told Volleyball World. “Playing against such strong teams, learning from their experience, this is a once in a lifetime experience that I am enjoying to the fullest!”

Mugwaneza showed some good skills in defense and reception in the second match of her team against Pool A favourites Brazil. Surprising fans in the hall, and even their opponents, Rwanda were leading in the second set, but then lost to the more experienced Selecao.

Despite her young age, Mugwaneza knows the game of volleyball well. One could say that the sport runs in her family's veins. Her older sister, Belyse Irakoze is also a volleyball player and is part of Rwanda's senior women’s national team.

“I started training volleyball three years ago, watching my sister playing it. It happened also to a lot of my teammates - we look up to our elder siblings who play the sport, and learn from them,” Yvonne said.

At 163 cms in height, Yvonne is not just the youngest player in the competition. She is also shorter than her teammates, which was one of the reasons why she was chosen for the libero position.

Team Rwanda during the WU20s

Team Rwanda during the WU20s

“I feel good playing in this position, and the most important thing is that this way, I can be useful to my team. I will keep on training and hope to become better!”

Becoming better is a goal that her teammates share, head coach Christophe Mudahinyuka confirms. And everyone who is watching Rwanda’s matches at the Topsportcentrum Rotterdam cannot help but notice the great atmosphere the players create during warm up.

“We like to dance and to sing our songs, this is how we remind ourselves of our beautiful country. Besides, it is always a good way to start a match - with a smile on our faces,” said Mugwaneza.

“Volleyball is the game I love, and I want to see many people playing it!”