Aiden Anawak, left, and Ian McDonald form the Nunavut men’s beach volleyball team for the Canada Summer Games. (Photo courtesy of Team Nunavut)
They are among the territory’s athletes heading to the Canada Summer Games this weekend
It’s the beach volleyball team without a beach.
And for the first time, Nunavut will send them to compete in the Canada Summer Games, which begin Aug. 6 in Ontario’s Niagara region.
In the absence of a sand volleyball court in Nunavut, beach volleyball players in the territory train in a school gymnasium. They are part of an open volleyball league and play two against six.
The only sand they see is when they travel out of territory for tournaments or, occasionally, down south for training. Even their coaching has been done virtually for the most part, with training programs sent to Nunavut.
What the players lack in upside they make up for in discipline and determination.
“At the end of the day, they’re very driven athletes,” says Rob Tomyn, who lives in Saskatchewan and coaches the Nunavut men’s and women’s teams.
“So when they organize their volleyball nights in Iqaluit, nobody organizes it for them. They are the ones doing it themselves and improving themselves.
He adds, “They’ve earned every ounce of recognition they get.”
Without the extras that other teams enjoy — like sand — there’s “definitely” a feeling of being the underdog, says Ian McDonald, who is paired with Aiden Anawak on the men’s team. Talia Grant and Shawna Kyak are on the female side.
“Obviously we don’t play beach volleyball (in Nunavut),” McDonald said. “And if you look at everyone’s height, we’re definitely shorter than everyone else.”
Beach volleyball has a party atmosphere for fans. There’s beach style music, it’s outside and sunny, people wear shorts and flip flops.
For players, “the physical demands…are a bit more important [than indoor volleyball]because you always touch the ball at least every time the ball goes over the net,” says Tomyn.
“Whereas with indoor volleyball you can make several rallies without even touching the ball. So there are no hidden weaknesses in beach volleyball – you have to pass, you have to attack, you have to there is simply no specialization because there are only two people in the field.
Never mind the sunburns, sand burns, heat exhaustion and buckets of sweat it takes away from them.
To prepare for Ontario’s hot weather, beach volleyball teams practiced in Halifax for a week in late June, then moved to British Columbia for the Volleyball BC Beach Provincials.
Temperatures there reached 35°C. Between games, the courts were sprayed with a fire hose to cool the sand.
“I don’t want to know how much money we spent on Gatorade on this trip, but it’s a lot,” says Tomyn.
Chemistry between partners is a big part of beach volleyball.
McDonald, who also plays elite-level soccer, is originally from Iqaluit, while Anawak moved to Iqaluit from Rankin Inlet in 2016. They are both 22 and met in their senior year in college. secondary studies.
“Two on two is very different, and it helps that Aiden and I are really close, best friends back home,” McDonald says. “We play volleyball together a lot, so we know each other very well.”
Nunavut launched its beach volleyball teams in 2019 at the Western Canada Summer Games. Tomyn thanks Scott Schutz of Volleyball Nunavut for making this new sport a competitive sport.
McDonald, who studies environmental technology at Nunavut Arctic College, thinks this will be his last major beach volleyball tournament.
He wants to coach, hopefully in time for the North American Indigenous Games next year.
Team Nunavut is competing in three sports at the Canada Summer Games: beach volleyball, Aug. 8-13; wrestling, August 9-11; and indoor volleyball, August 16-21.
The games website, Niagara2022Games.ca/watch, will go live when the competition opens on August 6, with live coverage, daily highlights and previous days’ events available on demand.