There’s a wonderful think about being from Nunavut and going to a national championship.
No one takes you seriously until you beat them and even then, they still don’t take you seriously.
Eekeeluak Avalak of Cambridge Bay was in that sort of situation at the U17/U19 Canadian Wrestling Championships in Fredericton, N.B., on Saturday and very nearly rode it right to the top.
The 15-year-old copped himself a silver medal in the boys U17 55-kg weight class, dropping a tight 6-3 points decision to Logan Smith of Ontario in the final. Had it not been for a couple of small mistakes, the result could have been a bit different, according to his coach, Chris Crooks.
“It was a little bit of inexperience on his part but it was a good match,” he said. “He had some errors but they were small.”
Avalak had the benefit of a first-round bye, meaning he began his road to the podium in the round-of-16 against Logan Kennedy of Alberta, which he won by technical superiority, or by mercy, 15-5. Any match which reaches a 10-point spread at any point results in an immediate victory for the wrestler in front.
Next up was Elliot Merriman of Ontario and Avalak didn’t need points to win that one as he won by pinfall at 3:59 to advance to the semifinal.
Crooks said it was fun to watch Avalak keep his opponents off-guard.
“I know Eekee’s opponents went into those matches thinking he wasn’t prepared,” he said. “They looked at him and they weren’t expecting him to be as tough as he was.”
Avalak’s semifinal opponent was Zachary Ortencio of Ontario and it was another dominant performance as Avalak won by technical superiority again, 13-0, to advance to the gold medal match against Smith, where his luck would run out.
“The Ontario kid in the semifinal was a bit wiser but he still didn’t take Eekee seriously,” said Crooks. “They were taking him seriously by the final.”
In reflection of Avalak’s result, Crooks said a medal was an outside chance but the realistic result was getting to the quarter-final at least.
“I thought he would get a top-five and maybe catching a medal with a good draw,” he said.
In addition to the nationals, Avalak had a chance to try out for the Canadian team that will be heading to the Cadet Pan-American Games in Mexico later this year. He didn’t make the team but it was all about the experience, said Crooks.
“He lost all four of his matches but it was a good experience for him,” he said. “The difference between the trials and the nationals was everyone was first-year U19 and the weight classes were a bit different. I asked him if he wanted some more matches and he said sure. We talked about it and he knew it was going to be stiff competition.”
To put into perspective just how tough Avalak’s trials matches were, all four of his opponents have wrestled in events outside Canada, including one who has already fought 50 matches so far in 2019.
“That one kid has fought more matches in one weekend than Eekee has fought all year,” said Crooks. “He’s wrestling every single weekend.”
The next big event for Avalak will be the Western Canada Summer Games in Swift Current, Sask., this coming August.