A Hollywood writer couldn’t produce a better story about a journey to a volleyball championship than the true tale of Victoria Kakuktinniq and her Whale Cove teammates this past month in Rankin Inlet.
Kakuktinniq, originally from Rankin, was back in her hometown teaching a sewing program and waiting for her Iqaluit teammates to arrive for the annual Laura Gauthier Memorial (LGM) volleyball tournament.
She was deeply disappointed when the plane carrying her teammates had to fly-over Rankin on Friday, Nov. 23.
Kakuktinniq had played for Rankin in the tournament a number of times, as well as for a couple of other teams, but she had pretty much resigned herself to the fact she wouldn’t be playing in this year’s LGM.
Then, the players from the small little community of Whale Cove – who have only been in the LGM the past couple of years – asked if she’d like to suit-up with them.
And that’s where the true fairy tale begins.
Game after game rolled past and Whale Cove just kept on winning until they found themselves getting ready for one of the tournament’s semifinals.
Three sets later irony had played its role and they were past Kakuktinniq’s former team (Fusion) and staring at the defending champion Rankin V-Team in the final.
Kakuktinniq said she started believing Whale Cove could win the LGM when they first ran into Fusion in the round robin.
She said when Whale got up a couple of points on Fusion, she and her teammates started realizing they could hang-in with the best teams and might actually go all the way.
“We started the tournament just playing and having a little fun together but, from that point on, we really put our heads into it and had the confidence to really start thinking we could win it,” said Kakuktinniq.
“It was getting really exciting as we kept moving and when we did get to the final, we couldn’t believe we made it.
“We worked so hard to get to that point.
“There was just one more game to go, so we just went out there, gave it our all and we got the win.”
Kakuktinniq said when the final began on Sunday, Nov. 25, the crowd in the Maani Uluyuk Ilinniarvik (MUI) gym was going crazy.
She said by that time, the Rankin fans were actually chanting for Whale Cove.
“The whole crowd – it seemed like everybody – was actually cheering for us.
“It was so nice to play on a team that was being cheered for because nobody ever cheers for you when you play for Iqaluit.
“I was so happy when the crowd was chanting, ‘Let’s go Whale Cove, let’s go.'”
Back and forth the final sets went, with one team rarely ahead of the other by more than two or three points.
A fortunate bounce here or there and either team could have claimed the title.
When the final point was won, the crowd in the MUI gym exploded with happiness when Whale Cove took the female LGM championship.
Kakuktinniq said the final was crazy intense and exciting.
She said it’s hard to describe the feeling amongst the Whale players when they took that final point.
“Oh my God, everyone was just so pumped up and we were all so excited and so happy that this small little town of Whale Cove – that just started playing in the LGM about two years ago – won the LGM tournament.”
Given a few days to let it all sink in, Kakuktinniq looked back on the LGM and, surprisingly, described it as a bitter-sweet experience.
She said she couldn’t be 100 per cent happy because she didn’t go to the LGM to play for Whale Cove.
“Of course I was upset when my team flew over. It’s a team I play and practice with all year and we were really looking forward to going to
Rankin Inlet – we fundraised and everything to go – so it was very disappointing when they flew over.
“But the Whale Cove girls I played with were totally amazing and had a positive attitude the whole way through.
“They were just so exciting to be with – really kind girls who were more than happy to have me on their team, so I felt more than welcome playing with them.
“I was so excited to be able to be a part of their experience.”