Team Yukon has highs and lows in week one at Games

There were historic wins and personal victories. Winless runs and heartbreaking losses. Experience gathered for younger athletes and a last hurrah for a pair of long-time teams.

SHERBROOKE, Que.

There were historic wins and personal victories. Winless runs and heartbreaking losses. Experience gathered for younger athletes and a last hurrah for a pair of long-time teams.

The first week of competition at the Canada Summer Games provided a plethora of experiences for Team Yukon.

A high spot for the team came on the volleyball courts at the Universite de Sherbrooke.

The Yukon men’s volleyball team defeated Team P.E.I. twice at the Games.

Yukon defeated the islanders 25-19, 25-20, 25-18 to become the first volleyball team from the territory – male or female – to defeat a province at a major Games on August 4.

Yukon later cruised to a second straight-set win over P.E.I. by a score of 25-12, 25-15, 25-13 on August 7. The second win marked the end of the Games for the team and put them 10th in front of P.E.I. in the final standings. It is the first time a Yukon volleyball team finished ahead of a province in Canada Games history.

With some members of the team having played together since elementary school, through high school, the Arctic Winter Games and Western Canada Summer Games, the win was a bitter-sweet moment. After so many tournaments, spanning so many years, the team was over.

“I’m proud of how it all settled,” said co-captain and setter Lowell Tait. “With the team being over, we’re all still going to be able to train kids and pass it on to them, hopefully pass it to the next generation.

“I’m really pleased with how it ended. A huge thanks to my father, Russ, for putting in a lot of time with us. Since Grade 6 it has been flat-out volleyball … It’s been an awesome time and tons of fun experiences.”

A day after Yukon’s first win, the team was two points away from making it two in a row. Yukon narrowly lost 26-28, 26-24, 15-25, 25-23, 15-13 to Team Newfoundland and Labrador on August 5.

It was the end of a long and winding road for the Yukon women’s soccer team as well.

The Yukon squad, which has been playing together for a decade, placed last with a 3-0 loss to P.E.I. on Thursday. The thought of it being their last match together as a team seemed harder to swallow than the loss for some.

“This game was a little different for everyone because this was our last game together,” said midfielder Megan Lanigan. “The senior players are all leaving this team now after 10 years. They’re all going to university.

“I’m going to miss these girls so much. They’re like a second family to me.”

The Yukon team, which went winless at the Games, had lousy luck with injuries. Perhaps most significant was the loss of goalkeeper Samantha Burgis to a knee injury during Yukon’s 8-0 loss to Alberta to start the Games on August 3. Yukon went on to lose 17-0 the following match against Nova Scotia with outside midfielder Anna Janowicz in for Burgis. Janowicz showed great improvement in net over the week, helping keep P.E.I. scoreless for the first half on Thursday.

Yukon finally got on the scoreboard during a 12-1 loss to New Brunswick on August 6. Three minutes into the second half Lanigan lodged a free kick into the back of the New Brunswick net from over 30 yards out to make it 4-1.

Yukon was the only territorial female soccer team in Sherbrooke, with the N.W.T. scratching before the Games.

Yukon mountain bikers produced top-20 results in all three events last week.

Spencer Skerget, Massey Baker and Andrew Savard rode to a sixth-place finish out of 11 teams in the team relay on August 5. The Yukon team cruised in just 16 seconds behind New Brunswick in fifth.

Skerget led the Yukon team with a 15th place finish in the eliminator sprint event to close out the Games on August 7.

Baker took 26th and Savard 30th out of 32 riders in the eliminator in which riders go out five at a time on a technical 800-metre course with the top-two finishers advancing to the next stage.

Yukon’s lone female rider, Veronica Huggard, took 16th out of 18 riders in the women’s eliminator event.

“It’s been pretty unreal,” said Huggard of the Games. “This is what I signed up to do and just coming out here has been pretty great. There are a lot of awesome riders out here and it’s just a matter of taking what I learned here and applying it to how I want to ride next, how I tackle new races, how I look at my training plan.”

Skerget took a 16th-place finish in the opening cross-country race on August 3. Huggard finished 13th in the women’s cross-country race, beating three British Columbia riders and one from Saskatchewan.

Their results in the race represent the Yukon’s best in cross-country mountain biking at the Canada Games since 2005, when Whitehorse’s Daniel Sessford won Yukon its second-ever Canada Summer Games medal – a bronze – for mountain biking.

“I really enjoyed the cross-country race because of how much fun the course was,” said Skerget. “Even though I felt I could have done a little better in that race, I feel like it was my highlight of the Games.”

The Yukon women’s volleyball team got stronger and more consistent in play as the week went on. But, alas, it was not enough in the end.

The Yukon squad kept Team P.E.I. from any large runs, but was unable to pull off a win, dropping the match 25-14, 25-21, 25-14 last Wednesday.

The match concluded Yukon’s competition at the Games, going winless and finishing last.

“This last match here was definitely the best match we’ve had as a team as far as consistency goes,” said Yukon head coach Derick Bilodeau. “We had a lot better attacking and blocking. Some of our role players stepped up.

“Our team has consistently gotten better as the Games went on,” he added. “So it’s great to see that they played well in their last match.”

Every Yukon swimmer, many of whom are eligible to compete again in 2017, logged personal best times at the Games. But most important is the experience of being at such a huge meet with 324 athletes and seeing some of Canada’s best in action, said head coach Stephanie Dixon.

“In the Yukon we don’t have a lot of those senior-level athletes for these guys to look up to, they have to come here to see this. It ignites a fire in them and that’s some motivation they can bring home with them. That’s the biggest thing they’ll gain from this meet.”

Yukon’s is a very young team compared to those sent from provinces. The youngest was 13 and the oldest 16 at the 19-and-under competition.

None of the Yukoners made finals. But Dannica Nelson, 14, and Ben Janzen, 15, rewrote their personal records every time they hit the water.

“It’s been amazing. This is a great experience being here,” said Janzen. “I’ve never had anything else like this before. This is my first time being here and it’s been great.”

Without any earned wins in the team competition, none of Yukon’s tennis players qualified for the individual events in singles or doubles.

There were some losses to love for the Yukoners in Sherbrooke, but all the Yukoners loved the Games.

“I thought it was great. I’m so proud to be here and so happy we had the chance to come here,” said Yukon’s Gentianne Graham. “It’s true the rain was a little bit annoying, but once we got on court it was really fun.”

“It was really good,” added teammate Alex Roberts. “I like playing at sea level, it’s much easier to hit the ball for me.”

It was the largest tennis team Yukon ever sent to the Canada Games with six athletes taking to the courts. The territory only sent two to P.E.I. at the 2009 Games, including Kieran Halliday, who played doubles in what was his second Canada Games this week.

Halliday was Yukon’s flag-bearer during the opening ceremony of the Games on August 2.

Yukon did have one check in the win column at the Games. Ontario’s Gloria Liang forfeited a match to go compete in the qualifier for the Rogers Cup in Toronto.

Gaining experience was a big part of the Games for the Yukon team. Roberts and teammate Ewan Halliday, who are 13- and 12-years-old, are eligible to compete again in 2017.

None of Canada’s three territories secured a medal by the end of week one. Team Newfoundland and Labrador is not far ahead with one medal while Team P.E.I. has two.

Team Ontario is way out in front with 102 medals. Alberta is in second with 68 medals and B.C. has 62 in third. Hosting Quebec is in fourth with 61 medals.

Yukon athletes will compete in five out of 11 sports at the Games this week.

With 15 athletes, Yukon’s athletics team is the largest the territory has sent since the 1989 Games in Saskatoon.

It will also be the first time Yukoners compete in field events since two athletes competed in long jump at the 2005 Games in Regina.

Yukon’s two cyclists – Melanie Tait and Shea Hoffman – will begin the competition with a time trial race on Monday.

Yukon’s flatwater kayakers – Andrew Crist and Jason Zrum – will start the same day with 500- and 1,000-metre races.

Three Yukon golfers – Trever Harris, James McGrath and Parker Olson – will play the first of four rounds Wednesday.

The Yukon men’s soccer team plays Ontario on Monday and New Brunswick on Tuesday before starting placement matches.

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com

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