Rankin Inlet’s Alayna Ningeongan is fresh off of graduating from the University of Brandon in Manitoba with a bachelor’s in physical education with her major being recreation and sports management.

But she still has that scholastic feeling and she turned her next educational opportunity into one that will see her play the sport she loves at the same time.

Ningeongan has cracked the women’s volleyball roster at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon after successfully navigating her way through the tryouts earlier this year. The team made the official announcement on June 14.

Ningeongan isn’t the first Rankin Inlet volleyball player to feature at Assiniboine – Tristen Dias was the first to do so in 2015 when he made the men’s squad. Dias’ sister, Shanti Dias, will also be playing down south this coming season when she joins the women’s volleyball team at Holland College in Prince Edward Island.

She said she was shocked when she got the news.

“I applied to go to school there and it just happened that I tried out for the team,” she said. “I was so happy, excited, speechless – I hadn’t officially graduated from university yet and now I’m going to play volleyball at my new school. It was so surprising.”

Jeff Maxwell, the team’s head coach, said Ningeongan wasn’t even on the club’s radar, even though she’s lived in Brandon for a few years.

“Most of our recruits are players who have gone through high school here or have played on club teams in the area,” he said. “Alayna called us up, she sent us her background in volleyball and her resume and asked if she could come and try out.”

The one thing Maxwell said he likes about Ningeongan is her coachability.

“Her skills may be lacking a bit but that’s simply due to not having the same sort of opportunities that we have down here,” he said. “With a bit more court time, she will improve exponentially and she’ll be able to work with trainers on her fitness.”

It’s going to be a young team at Assiniboine this year – mostly players between the ages of 18 to 20, said Maxwell – and having an experienced player like Ningeongan will help with bringing the younger players along, he added.

“The first year away from home can be tough on young kids, especially if they’ve never left home before,” he said. “Alayna has been here in Brandon for a while now and she had to leave home to pursue her future. I’m hoping that will be a big benefit for the younger players and she can help them make that transition if they need it.”

Ningeongan has been keeping active in volleyball through several avenues. She played intramurals at university and was also part of a women’s league and co-ed league in Brandon. Before that, she wore the territory’s colours on several occasions, having played at the 2012, 2014 and 2016 Arctic Winter Games as well as the North American Indigenous Games in 2015.

“It’s a lot more competitive down there,” said Ningeongan. “Volleyball is what kept me active and the people I play with (in Brandon) are like my family.”

While at Assiniboine, Ningeongan will be working on an advanced diploma in human resource management. Because of that, her time playing volleyball could be limited to just one year.

“It’s a one-year program so I may only play for that one year,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll keep playing after that but you never know. It’s all about whatever comes. I like doing lots of things so I’m not sure what will happen.”

Ningeongan’s season will begin when the school year begins in September.

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