Team Nunavut’s female volleyball team faces off against Team Northwest Territories on Tuesday at the Arctic Winter Games in Wood Buffalo, Alta. Competing cheers of “N-U!” and “N-T!” from fans in the crowd kept the energy high throughout the match. NT walked away with the win with a score of 3-1. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

‘Team spirit is high’ for Nunavut squad at Arctic Winter Games

Volleyball ‘bug’ is growing across the territory, coach says

By Madalyn Howitt

Early morning starts and long days on the court aren’t keeping Nunavut’s female volleyball team down at the Arctic Winter Games.

“It’s been interesting, is that the right word to use for it?” coach Beverley Netusil laughed.

The team was up at 4:30 a.m. Monday, then faced a long wait for the bus that takes teams from the athletes village to the arena located about 50 kilometres away, “but they sang the entire way here,” she said.

“The team spirit is high. I couldn’t ask for a better dynamics with the girls right now.”

For many of the team members, it’s their first time taking part at a high-performance competition, Netusil said.

But co-captain Alyson McKay, from Rankin Inlet, has some experience under her belt, having just a few months ago competed at the Canada Summer Games in Ontario’s Niagara region alongside Shawna Kyak, who is taking part at these Games as a coach for Nunavut’s futsal team.

“I’ve wanted to be at the Arctic Winter Games since I was 10,” McKay said, “so I’m very happy. I’m very excited.”

Volleyball coach Beverley Netusil, left, and co-captain Alyson McKay, of Rankin Inlet, pictured ahead of their second game on Tuesday at the Arctic Winter Games in Wood Buffalo, Alta. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

Like many of the athletes, when she’s not on the court McKay’s mission is to collect as many commemorative pins from the other teams as she can at the pin trading centre.

“I have two pounds of pins in my bag. I want to make that four,” she laughed.

The team has been playing multiple high-energy games each day of the competition, which opened last Sunday in Wood Buffalo, Alta., and wraps up on Saturday.

On Tuesday when they battled the Northwest Territories on the court at Syncrude Wellness Centre, enthusiastic cheers of “N-U!” and “N-T!” from fans in the crowd kept the players pumped up.

While the team has yet to win a game, they did win a set against the Northwest Territories, finishing the game at 3-1 and had a “huge” celebration, Netusil said.

“We know that we’re this underdog team with the youngest team here in the tournament, so any chance we get to achieve a goal like that is, like, fantastic,” she said.

“None of us thought we would get a set, so the fact that we’ve done that and so early in the competition is excited for what’s to come.”

Netusil said momentum for playing volleyball has been growing in Nunavut.

“We’ve included ourselves in a lot more high-performance competitions. We’ve giving more training opportunities across Canada, even some internationally. So there’s a lot of excitement behind the logo and a lot of girls want to play,” she said.

Team Nunavut was to play Northwest Territories in the quarter-finals on Thursday. Nunavut’s male volleyball team was also playing Thursday, in a preliminary match against Alaska.

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