Nunavut futsal team underdogs but ‘talented,’ says coach

Athletes play together as a team for first time ever at Arctic Winter Games

Team Nunavut’s female futsal team races for the ball against Team Sápmi on Tuesday at the Syncrude Wellness Centre in Wood Buffalo, Alta., during the Arctic Winter Games. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

By Madalyn Howitt

The Arctic Winter Games is for many young athletes the highest level of competition they’ve ever faced.

When Team Nunavut took to the futsal court Sunday to face Team Alberta North at the Games in Wood Buffalo, Alta., in the division for female players born in 2007 or later, it was also the first game they had ever played together in person.

The team was formed in November, but since then they’ve had no time to practice together, said coach Colby O’Donnell, of Iqaluit.

“We’re playing against teams that have played together since they were kids … We are literally stepping onto the field together for the first time,” O’Donnell said.

“It’s frustrating, but at the same time it’s exciting because for some of these kids it’s a really great opportunity.”

Some of the team members have been playing for a few years, but others are very new to futsal. Athlete Makayla Kaludjak, 14, of Rankin Inlet, started out as a hockey player and was picked for the Arctic Winter Games hockey team. Instead, she opted to play futsal, which she started in September.

“It’s really fun,” she said.

“I like how we communicate … I didn’t think I’d choose futsal over hockey, but I had to go with futsal because I have more fun with it.”

Futsal is a technical game, similar to indoor soccer. A futsal field is smaller than a soccer field, and teams play four-on-four.

Futsal assistant coach Shawna Kyak, left, and coach Colby O’Donnell say Nunavut has a wealth of sports talent. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

“It’s extremely vital and critical that people who are playing work on their touch, meaning their ball control has to be extremely tight. You have to have the ball close to your body with very quick passes,” O’Donnell said.

He said he wants to see more athletes from Nunavut get the chance to attend events like the Arctic Winter Games, where they can compete with their peers and just enjoy themselves during downtime at the Athletes Village.

“There’s so many talented kids in Nunavut that could shine so brightly if we had more opportunity to bring them together on competing levels at this stage,” he said.

Assistant coach Shawna Kyak agrees.

“The Games is a great opportunity for children from Nunavut — it’s great competition for them,” she said.

After four games, the team was still looking for its first win but was scheduled to play Thursday afternoon against Yukon.

Nunavut has four futsal teams entered at the Games — male and female squads in the divisions for players born after 2007, and after 2009. All were scheduled to play on Thursday at the Syncrude Wellness Centre in Wood Buffalo.

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