The Team Saskatchewan U19 Women captured a silver medal at the North American Indigenous Games. SUBMITTED PHOTO
A local connection helped Team Saskatchewan earn a silver medal in volleyball at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).
Cory Gratton, a co-coordinator of the Team Saskatchewan volleyball representation at NAIG and a teacher in the Lloydminster Public School Division, coached the under-19 women’s team at the July 16-23 Games in Toronto.
Team Saskatchewan fought past tough competition from a number of Canadian and American clubs to make it into the final, before falling to Team Alberta in three sets.
“We played British Columbia in the semifinal and, by a number of people, they were probably the team favourite to win,” said Gratton.
“They were undefeated up to that point and we beat them in three sets. It was a pretty tough match, so I think emotionally and physically our girls were a little more tired than Alberta as we went into the final.”
The U19 silver medal wasn’t the only solid showing for Team Saskatchewan volleyball at NAIG as the U16 and U19 male teams both won gold, while the U16 girls team finished in seventh place.
Lloydminster’s Tyler Donnally and Brecken Laventure played for the U19 male and U16 female teams, respectively.
Gratton said Saskatchewan sent approximately 550 athletes to the multi-sport event and the province placed second in the overall standings.
He said the Games brought together about 5,000 athletes representing different indigenous cultures from across North America and a celebration of their lives and history played a big part in its undertaking.
“It was a great cultural experience for these athletes,” he said. “A number of First Nations communities were represented from across Canada and the United States, and Métis communities were represented as well, so putting them all together was quite interesting and it made for a really warm atmosphere.”
An ability to connect together quickly presented the biggest challenge for the Team Saskatchewan volleyball athletes due to a lack of practice time before the Games, noted Gratton, but their individual skill and great focus at the task at hand helped them to the strong finish.
He said the road to the U19 women’s silver medal began about a year ago when the coaching staff was picked before three separate player selection showcases and a training camp were held.
“Quite a long endeavour and we’re quite happy with our results and their performance,” said Gratton.
“It was a lot of hard work and quite a long commitment for our group, so it was nice to have that sort of closure to our season.”