The Team Nunavut basketball girls are satisfied with their first match of the Arctic Winter Games, despite falling to Team Yukon in a close contest Monday night.
“We’re really proud of the girls,” said coach Ashley Donkoh afterward. “They played their heart out. This is the first time we’re all playing together, and me and coach are really, really proud of them. They got back on defence; they hustled on offence.”
Yukon staked an early lead, but the Nunavut girls made a push to tie it up early in the third quarter. After a timeout, Yukon rallied to take back their lead and finished with a 54-45 victory.
“I think it went really well,” said Nunavut player Cassidy Devereaux. “It was our first time actually playing together as a team, and I think we work together very well.”
She enjoyed the loud crowd and upbeat atmosphere, saying the team learned what they’re going to be facing in the next games.
The Nunavut girls did not get much practice time together – just a few short ones squeezed in before the recent tournament in Rankin Inlet.
“It costs so much money to bring everybody together,” said Donkoh. “So we don’t have the opportunity that everybody else has. But you can see tonight, we do overcome that and we just try our best and do what we can.”
Baker Lake flagbearer Haley Hachey could be heard calling out plays on the court all game.
“I think it went pretty well, considering it was our first time playing together as a team,” she said. “(For) a lot of them, it was their first time playing in a major games, including myself. And the other team has been playing together for a lot longer and practising. There are some things we can improve on.”
Many players on the Nunavut squad have been active for years and were selected for the 2020 Games, cancelled due to the pandemic, explained coach Olivia Ullyot.
“These girls have wanted it for a long time,” she said. “They’ve been wanting it since the 2020 Games, so this is a big deal for them. And basketball for them is their life. They’re on the court, they’re in the gym all the time. They are living, breathing basketball.”
Ullyot has been coaching in Baker Lake for six years. Several of the players on the team were there when Ullyot first began in her role.
Hachey has been playing basketball since Grade 6.
“I’m a competitive person,” she laughed, adding that she’s always trying to push herself past her limit to improve.
“I think I want to learn how to dribble the ball better, because it’s very bouncy. And I think we should focus on getting rebounds and playing hard D (defence), but also working on our plays again and trying to work as a team to score some more baskets.”
Devereaux said the team has had some bonding experiences off the court, so now it’s time to translate that onto the court.
“Getting more comfortable with the offence that we’re running, running a tight defence and working together well,” are the keys to moving forward, she said.
“The girls know that the momentum starts with the defence,” she said. “If we can get tight defence, get some steals off of that, that leads into offence. So that’s what we’re trying to work on for next game.”
Ullyot said she’s very proud to be at the 2023 Arctic Winter Games representing Team Nunavut with some exceptional young women.
Flagbearing was ‘overwhelming’
Hachey was also the Team Nunavut flagbearer during the opening ceremonies Sunday, Jan. 29.
“It was very overwhelming, but it was also an honour because I was representing all of Team Nunavut and leading them in the opening ceremonies,” she said. “I just think it was really nice to sort of be the face of Nunavut and lead them throughout the Games.”