Connect with us

Support The NewsHawks

Rua Karimazondo (in red), featuring here for Wheeling University in rugby, also swims for the West Virginia institution


Wheeling University: An American home away from home for Zimbabwe’s bright prospects



GETTING over homesickness, even for a tough-as-teak rugby player, can be hard if you are a university student living and studying in distant lands.

Wheeling University in the United States however now feels like a little Harare or Bulawayo for quite a number of Zimbabwean students there, something that combats loneliness in a significant way.

During the Terrapins 7s tournament at the University of Maryland last weekend, spectators may have been surprised a bit at the sound of an unfamiliar language used for play calls by some of the Wheeling University players.

Eight Zimbabwean players were in triumphant Wheeling’s 13-man squad for the tournament, part of the National Collegiate Rugby Championship qualifiers.

The young men from southern Africa were in sizzling form when the West Virginia varsity was crowned champions with a 14-7 win over Kutztown University in the final.

Marvellous Benza, Tinomukudza “Chief” Chipfumbu, Aaron Juma, Rua Karimazondo, Krishna Kwenda, Shadreck Mandaza, Michael Muleya and Alex Nyamunda all caught the eye while representing Zimbabwe at youth level. This has earned them Wheeling University scholarships at different stages in recent years.

One of the newest recruits is the industrious Shadreck Mandaza, who has defied his humble beginnings as the son of the bus-driver at his school back home in Harare, to fast become a household name in Zimbabwean rugby.

Immensely gifted Mandaza, who also shone in cricket at Churchill Boys High School in Harare, joined Wheeling’s closely-knit rugby family, known as the Cardinals, in January. Already quite an experienced Zimbabwe senior Sevens player, Mandaza is also a back-to-back African champion with Zimbabwe in the fuller version at Under-20 level.

The Cardinals have particularly warmed up to the young men of Zimbabwe in a big way, but they are not the only US varsity to have come calling over the past few years.

Zimbabwe Under-20 rugby team coach Shaun De Souza, a former Test talisman with the national senior side, explains the driving force behind the soaring numbers of US-bound rugby stars.

 “I believe that the opportunities have been opened by the visibility we’ve been giving our players, the platforms that we’ve presented by streaming all our games, by posting activities that the Under-20s are up to,” De Souza tells SportsCast.

“It has opened eyes to scouts and universities. I think our first group that went to Wheeling University set a good standing and it’s now becoming a regular thing. Every year they are taking players from us. So ja, I think it’s good to have a partnership of this kind and it’s all opening opportunities for these boys. It’s something that’s the franchises are excited about and I think that’s one of our fundamental approaches to having an all-rounded athlete.

“We are not just creating rugby players, but we are creating good athletes and good human beings. It’s now drawing attention from universities, which is a good thing for us and a good think for our country. If all these guys get to go to these high quality universities, they play, enjoy their rugby, get educated and by the time they finish their education, they’ll be ready to play for the national team. Which is good for us and good for the system.”

All-rounded athletes most of these young Zimbabweans indeed are Rua Karimazondo stood out in rugby, soccer, waterpolo, swimming, field hockey and squash back in the days at St John’s College in Harare.

He has taken his versatility to Wheeling University, and in February swam for the college at the MEC Championship meet.

Karimazondo and fellow Zimbabwean Cardinal Aaron Juma have both received All-American honours in rugby, with Juma achieving it twice. – SportsCast.