What Madibaz volleyball star Sanelisiwe Shiyani lacks in height, she makes up for in commitment.
The most valuable player at the University Sports South Africa tournament in Limpopo back in July raked in another accolade when she was named MVP at the USSA Eastern Cape league last weekend.
That performance was instrumental in the 22-year-old libero inspiring the Mandela University team to title honours against the likes of Walter Sisulu, Fort Hare and Rhodes.
But, having discovered the sport as a teenager, recognition was not always easy to find for Shiyani, who grew up in the dusty rural areas of Mthatha before moving to Gqeberha.
She initially failed to make an impression due to her lack of height when she started playing in Grade 8.
“When I was in my second year in 2021 the passion started kicking in again and I motivated myself to try once more,” said the BCom accounting student.
“I was so happy and surprised that there was a position suitable for my height, so I began training and attending tournaments. I wanted to learn more about the position.”
That hunger for knowledge and an insatiable urge to keep improving have resulted in her career blossoming.
“I think I have improved over time because I always wanted to know more than what the coaches were giving me. I pushed myself to reach the targets set for me, and beyond,” said Shiyani.
Having earnt a reputation for not ever missing a training session says everything one needs to know about her.
“It boosts your knowledge. I have always been willing to try to reach the next level, even if it takes me out of my comfort zone.”
The position of libero is regarded as one of the most important in the sport, with the incumbent acting as a link and not being allowed to serve or rotate to the front line.
Shiyani described it as “a defensive specialist and the best passer in the side”.
“Your teammates must trust you in defence because you have to pick up balls others can’t get to. Then you have to pass with accuracy to the front line.”
The Madibaz stalwart has been selected for the USSA national team for the past two years and brought those skills to the 2023 Eastern Cape league, where they clawed their way back into the competition after a slow start.
Following one win and two losses in the first round of matches, they found themselves fourth on the log with plenty of ground to make up. However, they hit back by winning all their remaining games to move top of the table.
Despite being under pressure for the final round of matches at Walter Sisulu, they pulled off 3-0 victories over both WSU and Rhodes.
“It showed that we are fighters,” Shiyani said.
They will be hoping to display more of the same game in the Nelson Mandela Bay Volleyball Association league in which they are currently competing.