The rise, fall & return of Serena

THE fast running game she had as a teenager may have been replaced with a more composed and intelligent play.

Her girl-next-door persona is now a thing of the past.

But make no mistake about it, there is still gas in that tank!

In the two years since her last appearance for the Zimbabwe national team, Serena Chareka has shed off all the inexperience and gained plenty of experience about love, basketball and, most importantly, about life from her time on the sidelines.

“Yeah, it’s been very difficult sitting on the sidelines,” said the JBC and former Zimbabwe point guard.

“I remember, at first I would go watch my team play and try lend as much support as I could, but it became extremely difficult in those tight games when my team needed me but I could not help them.

“I then decided to stay away from the courts and try spend as much time with my family as possible,” she said.

Chareka’s story is a cautionary tale of the predicament most women find themselves in when it comes to sport.

Born November 26, 1988, Chareka is what most would call a natural athlete; blessed with unrivalled speed and outstanding handles.

First trying her luck in tennis, largely due to her namesake Serena Williams, the 29-year-old dabbled in a couple of sports before the allure of the open court proved irrestible.

Basketball soon followed, albeit at a very tender age.

“I started playing basketball in Grade Four at Dzivarasekwa Primary School,” said the pint-sized point guard.

“Initially my sport was tennis as that was almost a given as there was this international tennis star (Serena Williams) who I really looked up to and wanted to emulate.

“Unfortunately, I really didn’t like playing the game, I preferred watching it, and then jumped ship and tried netball and then basketball which had just been introduced in our area through the Hoops for Hope programme.

“I quickly grasped the sport (basketball) and due to my speed, emerged one of the top players, joining my first club Celtics by the time I was in Grade Seven,” she said.

Her defining moment came when she went to do her secondary education at Girls High School.

There, the school would soon propel her to fame and introduce her to future teammates and internationals like Margret Magwaro, Dorcas Marondera, Alice Mandivheyi, Rachel Makoni, Beverly Mpofu and Isobel Tengende.

The crew took Girls High School to unprecedented heights, going for a straight six years without losing a single match.

Her exploits then led to call-ups, both at youth and senior level, where she took part in the 2011 Zinaboza Games, CUCSA Games, Youth Games, All-Africa Games and numerous Afrobasket qualifiers in-between 2009 and 2014 in Mozambique, South Africa and a host of other regional countries.

When 2015 came, she just disappeared.

“Well, I did not really disappear,” she said with a slight giggle.

“I fell in love, got married and had two wonderful kids.

“I did play a little basketball here and there but it became very difficult trying out for the national team, especially as a wife and mother. One could go on assignments for weeks on end.

“If our basketball was a professional sport and one got paid and had something to bring for their struggles, then that would be fine.

‘But how does one explain the long absence that brings nothing to the table to a husband and family?

“Club basketball is less demanding and, as such, can easily be excused,” she said.

Serena Chareka is currently married to Simon Lufu, who is a childhood friend.

The two have two kids – seven-year-old Shane and three-month-old daughter Shannon.

Despite being a stay-at-home mum and part-time cross border trader, Chareka is still open to one day donning the national team colours again.

She has unfinished business.

“It’s funny you tracked me down now, because I only started training the other day (last Thursday) and hope to be fit and ready for the second half of the Harare basketball season.

“My team JBC currently doesn’t have a natural point guard and as captain, I really want to go back and play my part.

“As far as the national team is concerned, I still have unfinished business as we lost as much as we played when I was still there.

“I would really want to see what it feels like to beat Mozambique who have been a thorn in our side for as long as I can remember,” she said.

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