Shanti Dias, 18, of Rankin Inlet has been named the Nunavut Recreation and Sport Awards Female Athlete of the Year for 2020.

The announcement came this past Saturday, Jan. 23.

Female Athlete of the Year Shanti Dias shares a moment with her longtime volleyball coaches Holly Mercer, left, and Robert Kabvitok. The award selection was made public on Jan. 23.
photo courtesy of Robert Kabvitok

Dias said she found out about her selection via email.

She said winning the award came as a complete shock and surprise.

“I received an email telling me I had won the award and I was invited to attend an awards gala in Iqaluit sometime in September, I believe it is, to receive the award,” said Dias.

“I’ve played a few sports over the years but the award was mainly for volleyball. Volleyball Nunavut had voted to submit my name for the award and I was fortunate enough to win.”

These days Covid-19 makes it hard for any sport to thrive, but Dias still manages to take to the court twice a week for women’s volleyball when the activity is allowed.

Dias said that will be the extent of her play this year in Rankin, as she will be moving this coming summer to attend Holland College in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

She said Holly Mercer and Robert Kabvitok were her coaches for many years and she will always have fond memories of her time with the Rankin Royals.

“Holly and Robert contributed the most out of everyone to me winning this award with tons of instruction and encouragement.

“I’ll be taking sport and leisure management at Holland College. I was in touch with the volleyball coach there awhile back and I will be trying out for volleyball there.

“I’ve been playing for six or seven years now and my fondest memory is when our Rankin Royals junior volleyball team won the junior volleyball territorial championship in Iqaluit in 2018 I think it was.”

Dias, who also spent a number of years in gymnastics and was part of Rankin’s two-time U18 territorial soccer championship team when she was in grades 11 and 12, said she was actually disappointed when her parents (Tony and Shawna) told her to start in volleyball because she was too young to play soccer.

She said she was really sad and didn’t want to play, but things started to change when her parents got her to attend practice with Mercer and Kabvitok.

“My very first practice Robert and Holly came up to me and said I should keep playing. And then my brother, Tristen, started really encouraging me.

“Everyone in my family played volleyball throughout the years and they kept pushing me and pushing me, so I stuck to it and actually got pretty good as a player, so I just wanted to keep playing.

“So here we are and winning this award has made me feel a little bit proud and a little bit successful.

“It’s nice to be acknowledged for your efforts.”

Kabvitok said Dias became the Royals top leader almost from the beginning.

He said when he and Mercer first began coaching, they had 16-year-olds in the program, but they found themselves depending on her as a 12-year-old.

“We didn’t have a setter, really, when Shanti came along and she really stood out,” said Kabvitok.

“She’s well-rounded enough from Northern ball to make the team in P.E.I. She keeps working hard and, watching her in high performance events, she was right up there with the best of them and could compete with the best players on any team there.

“She’s solid on offense and defense, so I think she’ll fit in well with any team she tries for.

“She just never gives up on any ball in play.”

Mercer said this is the first time their volleyball program had an athlete of the year for all of Nunavut, so it’s a very special feeling.

She said the girls on the Royals teams have become just like family to them.

“I think when Shanti first came to us, she was into soccer but she took to volleyball almost immediately,” said Mercer.

“Right from the beginning when we were doing drills, she would do them step-by-step and show the other girls. So we came to rely on her at that young age to help us out because we had up to 30 girls coming out at a time and she’d remember everything she was shown.

“Then once we started playing in tournaments, we really saw leadership qualities in her. She was always the one who remained calm and calmed down the others during the games. So she was really our voice on the court.

“The girls on the Royals became a big part of our family and our lives and we’re really going to miss all of that.”

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