Iqaluit teams take gold at the annual Laura Gauthier Memorial volleyball tournament

It was a chance for the student to compete against a teacher in the men’s final of the Laura Gauthier Memorial volleyball tournament in Rankin Inlet. But it was the teachers who won this weekend.

“They kept us on our toes the entire game,” said Jonah Oolayou, a member of the winning team.

The annual tournament was held from May 2 to 5. It brought teams from across Nunavut to the center of the Kivalliq region to compete in the men’s and women’s divisions.

The tournament is held in memory of Laura Gauthier, who died in 2000. Originally from Pangnirtung, she helped increase the popularity of volleyball in Rankin Inlet, tournament organizer Reanna Johnston said.

One of the more intriguing storylines was the men’s gold medal final between Team Iqaluit and Team Baffin, she said.

Team Baffin was coached by several players who were part of Team Iqaluit.

Oolayou was one of the coaches for Team Baffin, as well as a player for Team Iqaluit.

Team Baffin played the last game without a coach, while Oolayou and another permanent coach were on the field with Team Iqaluit.

He said the final game was closely contested, with Team Iqaluit winning 31-29 in the fourth set.

“We thought we were going to lose at times,” Oolayou said.

Team Baffin consisted primarily of the 2024 Arctic Winter Games boys volleyball team, which Oolayou also coached.

Team Iqaluit, although older, ranged in age from 20 to 30 years old, Oolayou said.

He said as a coach there were high expectations for Team Baffin to participate in the tournament.

“They put on a really good show and fought hard every match to reach the final,” he added.

While the men’s final was exciting, there was more volleyball on the women’s side. Johnston said 12 women’s teams and nine men’s teams participated in the tournament.

“There’s always a lot of excitement when teams come in,” she said. “There were a lot of competitive teams this year.”

The women’s version of Team Iqaluit also took gold, beating Familia in four sets.

In addition to having both women and men in the tournament, the age range was huge, Johnston said, with players as young as 14 and as old as 64.

Communities at the tournament included Naujaat, Baker Lake, Pangnirtung, Whale Cove, Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit.

Johnston said organizing this year’s tournament went smoothly as no flights were cancelled. The organizers are already preparing for the next tournament.

“We are already looking at the dates for next year,” she said.

As for the growth of volleyball in the area, Oolayou responded positively.

“It just keeps getting better,” he said.