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Rankin soccer is almost getting too competitive

Ladies looking to travel in new year
Franklin Inlet came out on top over Beercelona in the gold medal game of the co-ed soccer tournament Dec. 11 to 12. They can be seen here flashing their $2,700 in prize money. In the back row are Hunter Nakoolak, left, AJ Curley, Chad Graham, Kublu Niviatsiak and Airo Akerolik. Front row are Panilaaq Tartak, left, Amelia Ipkornerk, Ramona Niviatsiak and Keisha Ugjuk. Photo courtesy of Keisha Ugjuk

Soccer in Rankin Inlet is hyper-competitive, and that has Rankin Inlet Women’s Soccer looking to bring in professional referees.

A co-ed tournament Dec. 11 to 12 brought nearly 50 players on five teams together, and tensions were high when it came to the gold medal game between Beercelona and Franklin Inlet.

“It was crazy intense,” said Keisha Ugjuk, who played on Franklin Inlet and also sits on the women’s soccer committee.

Her team ended up winning the gold medal – and $2,700 prize, with $1,800 for second place – but it was fraught with controversy.

“There was so much stress between the players and refs,” said Ugjuk. “I don’t know if people were happy about (us winning the gold medal) because the committee members running the tournament (ended up) winning the tournament.”

To avoid that kind of stress, Ugjuk is looking to fly in professional referees in the future.

“If we’re ever running another co-ed tournament, we are going to look into official refs,” said Ugjuk.

Besides alleviating tournament tensions, her main focus now is revitalizing competitive women’s soccer in Rankin Inlet. A recent $7,500 donation from the Agnico Eagle Charity Ball Program will help go toward new equipment to help the women train, and she hopes the post-Covid era means the ladies can travel to tournaments for the first time in years.

Ugjuk has been playing soccer since Grade 5. She attended several tournaments as a youth, including the Arctic Winter Games, but she grew up to find there were no women’s teams to continue playing with. Three years ago, she helped start the women’s soccer committee in Rankin Inlet, which organizes tournaments for ladies 16 and up.

“It’s supposed to be 18 and up, but there are so many great players,” said Ugjuk. “I travelled so much in my high school days for soccer tournaments, and I want the older ladies to have that opportunity.”

Covid, of course, blunted those dreams for the past two years. But with the growing possibility of virus restrictions nearing the rear-view mirror, Ugjuk hopes tournament travel can become a reality again – at least to Yellowknife, if not more exotic locations.