It’s been a year of transition for the Rankin Royals junior female volleyball team with coaches Robert Kabvitok and Holly Mercer preparing to step down following the Nunavut junior volleyball territorial from May 3 to 5 in Iqaluit.
It’s been five years since Kabvitok and Mercer started coaching the Royals in an attempt to reinvigorate the game in Rankin.
They ran two practices every week with the Royals, and were always trying to pull together mini tournaments so the team would have competition.
Mercer said she and Kabvitok were also involved with all the team’s fundraising efforts, and did their own practice planning and travel scheduling.
She said all things considered, coaching the Royals is a time-consuming endeavour.
“At first we were just going to hold practices here and see who came out but it just kept building,” said Mercer.
“Today Robert is the head coach for Nunavut’s Canada Summer Games team and he’s coached at the Arctic Winter Games (AWG) and the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).
“So you could say we came a long way during the past five years.”
Kabvitok said he got interested in coaching when Mercer would come home from the gym complaining that there was nobody at volleyball and it felt like the sport was dying in Rankin.
He said he was usually watching NHL hockey on TV when she came in, and he would have said yes to just about anything to get back to his hockey game.
“It was obvious this routine wasn’t going to end anytime soon, so I suggested we coach and try to get female volleyball going again in Rankin,” said Kabvitok.
“It ended-up being five years with the Royals. The first time we came out to coach there were 30 kids waiting for us and we didn’t have a clue what we were going to do.
“We didn’t know how to coach or conduct drills, so we started doing workouts and the number of players started declining. After a bit we had eight girls who stuck to our drills and they’re, pretty much, today’s Royals.”
Mercer said two of the girls on today’s Royals team have been with her and Kabvitok since day one, with the rest of the squad joining the program the following year.
She said working with the same group of girls for five years is what’s making the choice to leave so hard for her right now.
“The most challenging thing about our five years with the team was really not knowing what to do in the beginning,” said Mercer.
“We both played volleyball but its different when you’re coaching and there’s a lot of kids who never played before and don’t have much volleyball knowledge.
“We got a lot of help from Volleyball Nunavut when they started doing coaching clinics, and then we brought up Carsten Stanjeck from Calgary. He really helped us and it changed a big part of how we coached.
“I’m really going to miss the girls because we’ve spent so much time with them doing stuff in addition to our practices, and it’s going to be really hard to walk away from all that.”
Kabvitok said the most challenging thing for him was when he first started coaching because he didn’t have any daughters and he hadn’t coached any female teams previously.
He said when the girls would get emotional he’d ask Mercer to go talk to them because he really didn’t know how to, and he also found travelling with the team challenging because he had to spend so many days away from his family.
“I would always have Holly coaching beside me, but when I went to the AWG and NAIG she wasn’t beside me anymore, so I’d often call her to help me out and I also found that very challenging.
“What I’m really going to miss is these girls wanting to learn from us, and they’re young enough to still have so much potential.
“We got so attached to them they’re like family to us. That’s what I’m really going to miss.
“Holly has this ‘but’ she uses – after every practice she’s telling me the girls only have a year left, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to start coaching hockey next year because our boys are at that age now where we have to support them and help them out.”
Kabvitok and Mercer are hoping against hope somebody will step up and take over the Royals when they leave, but nobody’s approached them about it yet.
Mercer said that’s why she’s having to use her ‘but’ all ready.
“We’ve got the junior girls, we do baseball in the summer for our boys, and now Robert’s going to start coaching hockey. I’m still hoping we can figure out how to do all that for just the one year.
“That’s the hardest part right now. I’m really struggling with just leaving them.”
Kabvitok said he’s sorry, but he’s not going to think about that because he’s trying to put his head towards coaching hockey.
He admits, however, it’s in the back of his mind that he really doesn’t want to see the Rankin Royals die because there’s no other adult willing to step up and coach the team.
“I also know there are more kids interested in starting the volleyball program. We always have 10-year olds asking if there’s going to be a junior program so they can play,” said Kabvitok.
“They can’t wait to be in the Rankin Royals program and that’s been on my mind a little too.
“We’d like to thank our local sports and recreation, the parents and the community for all the support we’ve received over the years.
“We appreciated all that support very much.”