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Territorial champions crowned on the mat

Judging by the wrestlers that made the Arctic Winter Games team for Whitehorse this coming March, one thing is certain: They won't be short on experience.

And they should cause some headaches for the opposition.

Eekeeluak Avalak of Cambridge Bay gets a good grasp on his opponent during action at the Nunavut Wrestling Championships in Cambridge Bay on Nov. 2.
photo courtesy of Amory Woods

That last line was the prediction of Chris Crooks, the team's head coach, following the Nunavut Wrestling Championships which wrapped up in Cambridge Bay on Nov. 3. A total of 11 wrestlers were named to the team – six boys and five girls – and the one thing which stands out is the experience of the team, said Crooks.

“We should have a very strong team and I would say one of the strongest teams we've ever sent to the Games,” he said. “A lot of the athletes have experience outside of the territory and not just in major games.”

Most of the usual suspects made the final cut, such as Eekeeluak Avalak of Cambridge Bay and Cody Qamukaq of Iglulik on the boys side, both of whom competed at the Western Canada Summer Games in Saskatchewan this past August, which the girls roster is a near-carbon copy of the Western Canada Summer Games girls roster as all five – Kiana Ekpakohak of Cambridge Bay, Kristen McCallum of Cambridge Bay, Chasity St. John of Arviat, Kylie Kunuk of Iglulik and Aislyn Omilgoetok of Cambridge Bay – fought in Saskatchewan.

All of the team members won their weight classes, said Crooks, including one young grappler who was the surprise package of the tournament.

“The only surprise of the results is Kaaju Arreak of Iqaluit,” he said. “He trained on his own, he paid his own way to get here and made the team.”
Arreak didn't have a coach in Iqaluit and needed to have a coach in order to compete. Barrett Mason, the coach from Pangnirtung, agreed to step in and act as his chaperon for the meet, which satisfied things for Crooks.

“I was having e-mail back-and-forth with Kaaju's mom and asked him where he trained, how he was working out,” he said. “I said if he pays the entry fee and makes his way here, he can compete and he turned out to be quite good.”

The championships also doubled as a training camp with a full week's worth of workouts, meals and school work.

“We made sure they didn't fall behind,” said Crooks.

It also served as an identification camp for the 2020 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Halifax next July though Crooks said NAIG does things a bit different for wrestling.

“For the Arctic Winter Games, we only have six weight classes and NAIG has 13,” he said. “The age limit is different; it's open to athletes born between 2001 and 2005 so we can add more athletes to our roster and that gives some of the older wrestlers in the territory a chance to try out.”

There may be a camp of some sorts in Cambridge Bay for NAIG but Crooks said that all depends on whether there will be enough money to host such an event.

As for the AWG wrestlers, they could be on the road as early as next month for more training in Ontario, if all goes well.

“We'll do something like an American-style tour where we go to a tournament and train and compete, then go to another one to train and compete,” said Crooks. “I'll be calling around to see if there are any coaches who can help us out but I'd like to get to two major tournaments if I can.”


Arctic Winter Games wrestling team

Eekeeluak Avalak, Cambridge Bay (55-kg)
Joel Netser, Rankin Inlet (60-kg)
Cody Qamukaq, Iglulik (65-kg)
Kaaju Arreak, Iqaluit (70-kg)
Alexander Angalik, Arviat (78-kg)
Davey-Anthony Akat, Arviat (85-kg)

Kiana Ekpakohak, Cambridge Bay (50-kg)
Kristen McCallum, Cambridge Bay (55-kg)
Aislyn Omilgoetok, Cambridge Bay (60-kg)
Kylie Kunuk, Iglulik (65-kg)
Chasity St. John, Arviat (71-kg)
source: Nunavut Wrestling

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