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Nunavut futsal team underdogs but ‘talented,’ says coach

For many young athletes, the Arctic Winter Games is the highest-level competition they have ever encountered.

When Team Nunavut took on Team Alberta North on the futsal pitch at the games in Wood Buffalo, Alta on Sunday, it was also the first game they ever played together in person.

The team was formed in November but they haven’t had time to train together since then, said Iqaluit coach Colby O’Donnell.

“We’re playing against teams that have played together since we were kids… We’re literally stepping onto the field together for the first time,” O’Donnell said.

“It’s frustrating but at the same time exciting because it’s a really great opportunity for some of these kids.”

Some of the team members have been playing for a number of years, while others are brand new to futsal. Athlete Makayla Kaludjak, 14, of Rankin Inlet, started out as a hockey player and was selected for the Arctic Winter Games hockey team. Instead, she opted for futsal, where she started in September.

“It’s really fun,” she said.

“I like how we communicate… I didn’t think I would choose futsal over hockey, but I had to choose futsal because I enjoy it more.”

Futsal is a technical game, similar to indoor soccer. A futsal field is smaller than a soccer field and teams play four against four.

Assistant futsal coach Shawna Kyak (left) and coach Colby O’Donnell say Nunavut has a wealth of sporting talent. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

“It’s extremely important and crucial that the people playing play work on their feel for the ball, which means their ball control has to be extremely tight. If you’re going to pass very quickly, you have to have the ball close to your body,” said O’Donnell.

He said he wants more Nunavut athletes to have a chance to compete in events like the Arctic Winter Games, where they can compete with their peers and just enjoy themselves during their free time at the Athletes Village.

“There are so many talented kids in Nunavut who could shine so brightly if we had more opportunities to bring them together on competitive levels at this stage,” he said.

Assistant coach Shawna Kyak agrees.

“The games are a great opportunity for Nunavut children – it’s a great competition for them,” she said.

After four games, the team was still looking for their first win but was scheduled to play the Yukon on Thursday afternoon.

Nunavut has four futsal teams entered at the Games – male and female squads in the post-2007 and post-2009 divisions. All were scheduled to play at the Syncrude Wellness Center in Wood Buffalo on Thursday.

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