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Kaleigh Niptanatiak of Kugluktuk prepares to let fly with a shot during Grade 7 girls playoff action in Diavik Junior Super Soccer in Yellowknife on April 30. James McCarthy/NNSL photo

It stands to reason that if you spend a pile of money on getting to a tournament, you want to win it.

In the case of the Kugluktuk High School Grizzlies, just being there in the end was all worth it.

The community's Grade 7 girls team was in with a chance in the final on April 30 against William McDonald School of Yellowknife but came up short, dropping a 6-2 decision.

There was no shame in losing, said Ben Savoie, one of the team's coaches as he said he was more than satisfied with how things ended up.

“We came to this tournament with three Grade 7's, three Grade 6's, two Grade 5's and a fourth-grader,” he said. “The girls were committed for eight months to get this far and not in my wildest dreams did I think we would make it to the finals. They deserve all the success they got.”

The girls were under the gun right from the start as William McDonald pressured the Grizzlies and scored the game's first three goals before halftime. In the second half, William McDonald scored two more but the Grizzlies finally hit the scoreboard late and then again to make it 5-2, much to the delight of their loud cheering section. William McDonald scored one more late to seal the deal.

Rachel Green, the team's other coach, said the final score was secondary to how the team did.

“We exceeded our expectations, for sure,” she said. “We came to do exactly what we did and we couldn't be more proud of them.”

Getting up for the game wasn't a problem at all and knowing it would be a tough game against a really good team – one which had only one real scare up to that point courtesy of Rankin Inlet in the quarter-finals – didn't faze the girls at all, Green added.

“They motivate themselves,” she said. “We tell them what we think they need to do but beyond that, they really pick each other up so we couldn't really say anything much. We hadn't watched (William McDonald) much either before we played them.”

“We just reminded the girls that we cared about them and they just needed to work hard,” added Savoie. “The hard work paid off for them because some of these girls didn't even kick a ball before we started practising eight months ago. They're at the point now where they've blossomed and they blew me away with what they did in the game.”

As with any team which makes the trip over from Nunavut, it wasn't a cheap venture as it cost $20,000 just to make sure everything could be paid for while in Yellowknife. Before they left, there was a trip to the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool for a swim and some pizza, which should have work off any sort of sting of losing.

Savoie said it was money well spent, regardless of the final result, and they got the true big city experience.

“Some of them got to hit a swing set for the first time,” he said. “Some saw trees for the first time, some saw grass for the first time, first time at a Walmart, first time to a McDonald's. This was more that a tournament for them and they'll remember it for a long time. This was my third time coming here with the girls who started in Grade 4 and seeing them nurture the younger girls, I know we'll have a successful program for a long time.”

Coral Harbour's Grade 8 girls team also got to the final of their division and was also up against William McDonald but ended up on the wrong end of the final decision, as was every other team which played William McDonald in a final – all five to be exact.

Alyssa Whitney coached Coral Harbour's girls entry and said William McDonald was the only team that managed to beat them at any point in the tournament.

“We did a lot better than we expected to,” she said. “We hoped the final would be a bit closer but I'm so happy with how we played. We never gave up. The girls were disappointed at first but we talked about it after the game and for them, it was a win and not such a disappointment after all.”
Just like the Kugluktuk girls, Coral Harbour's girls took in the sights and the sounds of Yellowknife, some of them having never made the trip outside the community before. And just like the Kugluktuk girls, it took some thoughts to pay for the trip - $35,000 to be exact.

“For the girls team and our boys team to travel, it cost us $70,000,” said Whitney. “The plane ride took up about 90 per cent of our costs.”

The thoughts have already turned to next year and Whitney figures if they begin fundraising in September, they'll be in good shape.

“We're hoping to be able to do a charter all the way to Yellowknife next year, if we get enough money to do it,” she said. “The goal is to get more players and hopefully send over a couple of more teams to play.”

That Rankin Inlet Grade 7 girls team which gave William McDonald the scare earlier on in the tournament ended up losing by a score of 4-3. They made it a genuine nail-biter after trailing by a score of 4-1 late in the second half. Rankin Inlet also had two teams in the Grade 6 boys division and it was Team Black which got the furthest, losing in the semifinals to William McDonald.

About the Author: James McCarthy

I'm the managing editor with NNSL Media and have been so since 2022.
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