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Royals spiking at right time

The 2024 Rankin Inlet Royals junior girls volleyball team are, front row, Lexi Dion, and, back row, from left, Holly Mercer (coach), Kortni Mckay (18), Makayla Kaludjak (4), Team Canada women’s volleyball head coach Shannon Winzer (special guest), Gianna Kaludjak (13), Mia Autut, Atuat Hickes (17), Kara Tatty (14) and Robert Kabvitok (coach). Photo courtesy of Robert Kabvitok

It was an interesting start to 2024 for the Rankin Inlet Royals junior girl’s volleyball team, as they played an exhibition game against a team of Agnico Eagle Mines employees at the Meliadine gold mine before heading to Yellowknife for the annual NWT Volleyball Championships.

Royals coach Robert Kabvitok said he had it in his mind that he’d like to do something a little different for the team that he and his wife, Holly Mercer, coach together, and that turned out to be the game against AEM.

“At first, we had a date set but, due to weather in Rankin Inlet, we had to postpone the game twice. By the time we could finally get there, the team we were scheduled to face had changed shifts.

“They were, however, able to put together a make-up team and it turned out to be a fun game for the girls, although they were a lot to handle for the Agnico team.

“Holly (Mercer) and I train our girls to a high-performance level so teams have to be well-prepared in order to have success against them.”

The Royals, comprising 13-to-19-year-old players, ran into a little miscommunication problem when they landed in Yellowknife to find the event there was for female players aged 16 and older.

The Royals had three players under 16 and had to ultimately negotiate their way into the tournament.

Kabvitok acknowledged many of the new rules coming into effect are put in place mainly for safety reasons. However, he was quick to point out the Royals players have been competing against senior women’s teams in Rankin for quite awhile because they really don’t have other junior teams to play against in the community.

The visiting team from Rankin Inlet “had a really good weekend,” in Yellowknife, according to the coach.

“We didn’t expect to go there and win any games but we put in a good showing with a number of the girls new to the Royals team,” said Kabvitok. “They won one set and there were a few times we had really close matches but we just couldn’t finish it off. Holly and I always make sure we write down what we need to work on after these events.

“We gained some good experience at this tournament for the girls, but we need to decide upon what type of defence and offence we need to work on and go with.

“We’d really like to go back to Yellowknife. The ladies on the Yellowknife side seemed to be impressed with how our 14-, 15- and 16-year-old girls played and were really surprised by how young they are.”

Kabvitok said no matter what the sport, Nunavut communities strive to be competitive and their players work hard to achieve that goal.

He said Nunavut coaches also work hard to prepare their players to be noticed at competitive events.

“We were all very excited about going to Yellowknife because we knew Team Canada women’s volleyball head coach Shannon Winzer was going to be there.

“She was watching one of our games and it was unbelievable watching her face because she was so surprised at how well our girls were playing. We told the girls about it and they all got so excited. It was a special moment, for sure.

“We played about seven games over a couple of days, so everyone gave their all and then some. One of our girls had to be carried at the end of it. She was pretty tired.

“Rankin is a competitive community. That’s how Holly and I grew up and we try to pass that competitiveness along to the players we coach. The other teams know the Royals now, so we have to be ready because every team is going to want to beat you.”

Kabvitok said the Rankin Royals will now start preparing for the Nunavut territorials this coming April in Iqaluit.

He said the girls selected for the 2024 Arctic Winter Games in Alaska will be heading out for training on Feb. 15.

“Three players from our club have been selected: centre Mia Autut, middle Kortni Mckay and middle Gianna Kaludjak.

“So we’re all pretty excited about that and, after the territorials, we’re going to be playing in the Laura Gauthier Memorial in Rankin this coming May.

“Yellowknife has also invited us to come back to their spring tournament this coming May, but a lot of that will depend on the funding we’re able to raise.

“Funding is always an issue when it comes to traveling to tournaments outside our region.”

—By Darrell Greer