Kathryn Bockman and members of Team Alaska's girls volleyball team relax with an impromptu drill before their afternoon game Tuesday.
Photo by Roy Shapley
Putting together a boys volleyball team in a state that doesn’t have boys volleyball at any level can be a challenge. Fortunately for Team Alaska, the Arctic Winter Games tournament includes five round robin games before medal-round play begins Thursday.
“It’s a challenge because there’s no high school (volleyball) for boys, so there’s very few clubs. Juneau is the only one that has a semblance of a boys club,” said Team Alaska boys volleyball coach Ieti Sagiao.
Contrast that with Yukon, where players first pick up the game in elementary school. Once they hit eighth grade, they join their high school team and enter into Canada’s extensive club system. Yukon coach Sukh Sandhu said 30 players came to try out for the Arctic Winter Games team this year.
“There’s a committee that picks the team, then they hand them over to me,” Sandhu said.
Sandhu said boys and men’s volleyball is popular across Canada, and his squad for the Games has played together extensively. Six of his players were on the team that traveled to the Canada Games, and four were on the squad that traveled to Wood Buffalo, Alberta, for the 2004 Games.
“As Team Yukon, we’ve had a lot of practice. It’s the same team that goes to club tournaments,” said Yukon captain Matt Taylor, an 18-year-old player from Whitehorse. “Six of us went to the Canada Games last year, and of those six, we’ve played together since grade nine or 10.”
Taylor said the time together makes for good chemistry on the court.
“Plus, living in Yukon, you know everyone anyway,” Taylor said.
Sagiao, on the other hand, simply was looking for good athletes to mold into a team. He first met his athletes when Team Alaska rendezvoused in Anchorage on Friday.
“We had our first practice at a gym in Anchorage, our second one was here Saturday morning, and then one more Sunday before the opening ceremonies,” Sagiao said.
Five of the seven players representing Alaska are from Juneau, where they play in a men’s recreational league. The other two members of Team Alaska are from Anchorage.
“They’re jelling. I think the second match we played started to show we’re coming together. This is like having practice for a week before we get into a tournament situation,” Sagiao said.
Mike Knecht, a senior at Bartlett High School in Anchorage, was selected for Team Alaska despite his lack of volleyball experience. A wide receiver for the Golden Bears football team and a member of the track and field team, Knecht said his volleyball experience comes from his two sisters, who played at Anchorage high schools, and from his parents.
“My mom and dad play, and I mess around, but that’s about it,” Knecht said.
Still, Team Alaska has had some success, winning its first two matches Monday before losing to Alberta North in four games Tuesday.
“Teamwise, we haven’t played together, so we don’t know everybody’s tendencies. But we can hang with anybody,” Knecht said.
While Alaska won’t face Yukon until 5 p.m. today, Taylor said the type of competition his team faces in the Games is a good challenge and noted that the level of competition has improved since Wood Buffalo.
“It’s scrappy volleyball. They throw whatever they can against you, so it’s good practice for us,” Taylor said.
Volleyball semifinal matches are slated for Thursday, and the bronze- and gold-ulu games are Friday at Skyview High School.
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