After two years of having their travel plans shut down by COVID-19, the women's soccer team in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, is training for a summer they won't forget.
They've already been warned by the committee that leads them to get ready to win a trophy down south.
"The first day [the gym] opened, I messaged the ladies soccer crew saying that I want to be ready — if we're going to take a team down, I want to be ready and I want to go there to win," said Keisha Aliyak, a member of the women's soccer committee.
It'll be the first tournament outside the hamlet for the women's team, which has hosted co-ed tournaments within Rankin Inlet in the past. The details of when and where they'll play are still up in the air, though Aliyak said she's heard there will be tournaments in Goose Bay, Nfld., and Winnipeg, Man., that the team could go to.
"First, we need to get in shape and start practising as a team," Aliyak explained.
They'll be practising at least once a week, and Aliyak is looking forward to being able to play on the turf at the new arena — a bigger space than the one they're currently playing in.
While many women in Rankin Inlet play soccer, the team itself is fairly new. The committee started up just before the pandemic hit, and has been focusing on raising money for when travel was back on the table.
Aliyak said she's one of three women on the committee, and one of about 25 to 30 women on the team itself.
"There's a lot of talented people here who play, so now that everything is starting up, there [are] more people who volunteer to do practise or a workout day ... It's starting off pretty good," she said.
Her players also have a strong competitive side, which Aliyak said will work to their advantage in a tournament.
"I tell you, even if it's just the practise day, soccer's very competitive here — that's what makes it fun," she said.
New team for an old sport
Aliyak said she helped form the committee to launch the soccer team in part because she personally felt the gap in Rankin's soccer landscape.
She began playing soccer behind her school when she was 10. When someone started up a U12 team in the community, she joined and they began travelling to compete in Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Alaska.
"Throughout my whole middle school, high school, I travelled so many times for soccer," she said. "Playing with different communities and different countries, just that experience makes it so worth it."
But after she graduated, it was a different story. There was ladies' soccer practise some days, but no one to take teams down to tournaments.
Aliyak said the formation of the women's soccer committee was an attempt to change that.
"I want to keep that going here for ladies' soccer," she said.