Two-for-two for Kugluktuk on the soccer pitch

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Seems the Kitikmeot region made Yellowknife its own stomping round sports-wise earlier this month.

On the backs of Cambridge Bay’s win at the Arctic Shoot-Out basketball tournament, the boys soccer team from Kugluktuk was on the indoor pitch at the Grade 4-5 Yellowknife Soccer Tournament that same weekend and just like The Bay, they, too, came out on top.

Kugluktuk defeated Weledeh Catholic School of Yellowknife by a score of 6-3 in the final to win its division to give the community a second soccer title in less than a month. It was a back-and-forth game for much of it as both teams traded goals in the early going but Kugluktuk was able to find a little extra down the stretch to go away winners.

Andre Ihumatak of Kugluktuk waits for the ball to come to him for a shot during the boys final of the Grade 4-5 Yellowknife Soccer Tournament in the NWT capital on May 12. James McCarthy/NNSL photo
Andre Ihumatak of Kugluktuk waits for the ball to come to him for a shot during the boys final of the Grade 4-5 Yellowknife Soccer Tournament in the NWT capital on May 12.
James McCarthy/NNSL photo

Liam Clarke once again helped coach the community to victory, just as he had when Kugluktuk won the Grade 6 boys banner at Junior Super Soccer late last month, and said he was taken by surprise at how fast the opposing team was.

“They were a really good calibre of team,” he said. “They play much like we do: they move the ball around well and they’re an attacking team.”

Weledeh opened the scoring in the final, which was answered quickly by Kugluktuk, which was answered again by Weledeh, which was answered again by Kugluktuk to make it 2-2 at halftime. Kugluktuk came out quickly in the second half to pot two to take a 4-2 lead but Weledeh wouldn’t go away quietly as they notched one to get it back to 4-3 but that’s as close as they would get as Kugluktuk popped two more in the late stages to seal the deal.

Much of the boys team was made up of players who had suited up for Junior Super Soccer and Clarke said it was the first time many of them had played at the Grade 5 level.

“You always get better as a youth player when you play kids at your own level,” he said.

Something else which greeted Kugluktuk’s players was the Yellowknife Fieldhouse, which is indoor soccer-specific and a venue which the boys had neither seen nor played on before.

Clarke said it was definitely a change from the gym floors the boys were used to playing on.

“It’s a much smaller area for Super Soccer so when you get to the Fieldhouse and you go to seven-a-side, you have to reshuffle everything and it changes your style of coaching,” he said. “We normally play in a diamond formation on the gym floors but with the Fieldhouse, we had to get everyone into new positions, have players stay back on defence and move the ball in different ways. Most of them transitioned well, though.”

Not only were the boys the first team from Nunavut to win a banner but they were the first ever team from the territory to make the trip in to play in the tournament.

Joe Acorn, the tournament’s organizer, said he was surprised to even hear from Nunavut in the first place.

“I don’t know how they found out about the tournament,” he said. “I had been concentrating on getting teams in from (the NWT communities of) Behchoko and Hay River but they called me and asked if they could come so I said sure.”

Clarke said they were able to go to both Super Soccer and the Grade 4-5 tournament thanks to some government grants.

“We applied for two grants and we got approved for both of them,” he said. “That covered the airfares and it costs about $20,000 to go to a tournament in Yellowknife so that was a big help, for sure.”

Sadly, the boys won’t be back to defend their title next year but they will get a chance to defend the Junior Super Soccer title as most will be moving up to the Grade 6 division.

Clarke said he’s just happy the boys had a chance to be able to do something they’ll talk about for a long time.

“We need to thank the organizers for putting on tournaments like this because they’ll grow up and remember this,” he said. “I’m grateful to be able to give the kids this kind of opportunity and they won’t forget it anytime soon.”