Benjamin Grundmanis describes what he and teammate Max Clarke did this week as “trailblazing to the beach.”
Clarke and Grundmanis became the first-ever Yukoners to compete in beach volleyball at the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg.
Pulling together two skilled players, instead of six or more for indoor volleyball, is a good fit for territories and small provinces, said Grundmanis.
“Nova Scotia said they did the same thing. They realized that indoor teams had a harder time against the big monster provinces. So beach would be a great start for the territories, to actually see Canada Games success … down the road in the future.
“We won’t be able to compete anymore (because of age restrictions), but we’d definitely be interested in helping down the line and making this a Yukon sport. Beach volleyball, look out for it.”
Clarke and Grundmanis went winless with six straight losses and placed 11th. But they went out with their closest game of the week, losing 21-18, 13-21, 15-9 to P.E.I. on August 2.
“They definitely matched up very well against them and had their best game of the tournament,” said Yukon coach Matt Taylor. “They came close in the end, but at least they got a set win.”
“The last one was pretty memorable,” said Grundmanis. “It was a longer game but we were like, let’s push, let’s do this. It was a winnable game and we were both hungry for it. Along with being our most competitive match, it was one of our most fun matches as well.”
The Yukon duo lost 21-8, 21-12 to Ontario and 21-9, 21-9 to Saskatchewan in their first day of play on July 30. Both matches stand out for Clarke and Grundmanis — and not just because it was the hottest day with temperatures in the mid-30s and sand that burned everyone’s feet.
“That was one of our stronger games (against Ontario),” said Grundmanis. “We had our passes down and we were feeling pretty confident in ourselves.”
“I think our worst was the Saskatchewan game, which was the second game we had,” said Clarke. “That was probably the team we had the best chance at taking a set off of, maybe even a match win. It was just unfortunate timing. That was the hottest day and we also had to play Ontario in the morning, and (Saskatchewan) came out with that being their first game. So from the beginning we were really disadvantaged and really didn’t have a great game.
“I wish we could get that one back because that could have changed the complexion of the rest of the pool.”
Yukon also dropped matches to Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick.
The two 19-year-olds were pioneers for the sport two years ago as the first from Yukon to compete in beach volleyball at the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games.
“The boys were really serious about it and took a lot of pride in representing the territory and set the bar high as the first guys to go,” said Taylor of this week’s Games. “They competed really well against some really big provinces and had a really good attitude the whole time.”
Clarke and Grundmanis both played regular indoor volleyball at the 2014 Arctic Winter Games. Clarke also played indoor for Yukon at the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Quebec.
“It’s a hard transition from indoor volleyball to outdoor,” said Grundmanis. “You have to break down all your old habits and create new ones — passing, setting, hitting, everything. And the sand is a huge determining factor. So putting it all together makes for some difficult playing time, but I feel in the last three months we’ve improved immensely, so I’m feeling pretty awesome.”
As far as being at the Games in Winnipeg, both agreed the breakfasts, chock full of sausages and eggs, were a highlight. The opening ceremony, which included a speech from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was another.
“Seeing Trudeau was pretty cool,” said Grundmanis.
“He’s even hotter in person,” added Clarke.
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org