What began as friendly matches on the beach courts in Whitehorse’s Rotary Peace Park has taken two Yukon volleyball players to a major Canadian event.
This week Whitehorse’s Max Clarke and Benjamin Grundmanis represented the territory at the Western Canada Summer Games in Fort McMurray, Alta., becoming the first Yukoners ever to compete in beach volleyball at a major Games.
“It’s been an awesome time. There’s so much to learn still. There are some super strong teams to learn from, and they’re all super nice and friendly and they help you out,” said Grundmanis. “The entire experience has been pretty great.”
Clarke and Grundmanis have played regular indoor volleyball for Yukon at a major Games. Both played at the 2014 Arctic Winter Games and Clark also competed at the 2013 Canada Summer Games.
Besides being on sand in teams of two, the whole experience is different in beach play, said Clarke.
“It was definitely a different vibe. While you play they will have music playing the entire time, so it’s a lot more laid back. It’s just a lot of chilling in the sun with the crowd.”
The two Yukoners went winless in five round robin matches in the first three days of competition under a blazing sun. They finished with their closest match of all, losing 9-21, 21-18, 15-11 to N.W.T. in the fifth/sixth place crossover match, finishing sixth on Tuesday.
“It was close all around even if the 21-9 score didn’t say it. In that set they basically just rolled over at a certain point,” said Clarke. “As for the sets that we lost, those were both pretty close. I think they were the better team, but we definitely had the possibility to beat them.”
“We never showed our final form,” said Grundmanis. “It was a bit sloppy-ball the entire time ... There were a few points that could have gone either way.
“We were pretty tired, but that didn’t have a huge effect on the game.”
The two didn’t go straight from Rotary Park to Fort McMurray. They played a pair of tournaments in B.C. in preparation for the Games, going 4-4 in Sylvan Lakes and 3-5 in Vancouver.
“It was good to do that before westerns because we had no experience,” said Clarke. “We just hit it around a little bit in Rotary Park, which is not comparable to actual game experience.”
Clarke and Grundmanis have a lot more spikes and digs to deliver before they are done at westerns. They will trade the sand for hard court and join their Yukon teammates for the indoor full-team volleyball beginning on Thursday.
“I think it’s a solid team, a good starting line-up,” said Grundmanis. “We don’t have the height that we want with the players, but you can’t ask for everything when you live in the Yukon. There are some young players, but we’ll be all right.”
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