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Baker Lake athlete brings home bronze
Medal in mixed doubles just one of many highlights for athletes returning from North American Indigenous Games

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Wins, losses and close matches were all part of the game for Kivalliq athletes who competed at the North American Indigenous Games this month.

NNSL photograph

The Rankin Inlet duo of Amber Graham, left, and Kailee Karlik show off their Nunavut pride as they enter the venue for the opening ceremony of the 2017 North American Indigenous Games in Toronto on July 16. - James McCarthy/NNSL photo

The tournament, which wrapped up July 22, saw 14 players and two coaches from Kivalliq communities hit the court in Toronto, Ont., competing in basketball, badminton and volleyball.

Baker Lake's Carla Kaayak played U19 and U16 badminton and seized bronze in 16U mixed doubles alongside Sanikiluaq's Mike Kavik. That medal was one of four brought home by Team Nunavut this year.

Tyrese Dias, from Rankin Inlet, joined the U19 male volleyball team, which was coached by Rankin's Robert Kabvitok.

The U19 male volleyball team fell short of a medal but played strong against their opponents throughout the week, winning matches against British Columbia, Wisconsin and the Northwest Territories.

Dias described the team's final match against Team NWT as the highlight of the trip for him. The team scored 13 points in the first set, 25 in the second and 15 in the third, eking out a close 53-52 victory against their neighbouring team.

"Being able to take them in three sets, it felt good," Dias said.

The rest of the team shared that sentiment, according to coach Robert Kabvitok.

"At the end (of the tournament), we started getting stronger and stronger, and we started winning more sets," he said.

"This is not the end, because there are other events that we're going to go for, like the Arctic Winter Games."

Kabvitok said one challenge for the team was overcoming nerves once the games started in earnest.

The team trained together with different communities for five days in Hamilton before going to Toronto for the tournament.

"When they were practising in Hamilton, they were having fun there and they were calling the ball. But (once) people were watching them, they got quiet," he said.

"I would tell them, 'Just play and have fun - we're in a learning and building process.' So they played their hearts out, and I was proud of them."

Kabvitok said Dias was one of four players he relied on to help lead the team.

"When I saw him during the junior territorials last year, he would talk to his teammates from Rankin when they sent a team. I knew he would do the same (with this team)," he said.

"And he did. He did his job and he did really good."

The tournament also gave the team an opportunity to learn from the strategies other teams used.

Kabvitok said some of those strategies were similar to ones the team was already using, but his team didn't have enough time to practise to beat their opponents.

"It was a good learning experience, even for me," he said.

"We just couldn't fix the little things."

Dias said the team got off to a rough start in its first match of the tournament against Newfoundland and Labrador, where they lost in the third set for a final score of 54-58.

"It's not like the games were bad - we just came up against some really great volleyball players," he said.

Although he's too old to compete in future NAIG tournaments, Dias said he would love to return in a different capacity.

"It'd be nice to maybe even go as a coach one day," he said.

Also at the North American Indigenous Games were Baker Lake's Joshua Piryouar, Benjamin Iksiraq and Anthony James Sevoga, who joined Arviat's Ben Manik for Team Nunavut's U19 male basketball team.

The U16 female volleyball team was stacked with Kivalliq players: Hayley Kaayak from Baker Lake and Tracy Putulik from Naujaat joined Rankin Inlet's Kailee Karlik, Shanti Dias, Jade Anawak and Amber Graham. Also on the team were Shaelyn Kuksuk and Catherine Jones, both from Whale Cove, along with assistant coach Alana Kuksuk from Whale Cove.

Kabvitok is one of the coaches for the Rankin Royals girls volleyball team, and said watching some of the players from that team compete for Team Nunavut was a proud moment.

"They know where they have to be. I watched them, and they did very well," he said.

"We're proud of them."

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