More than just a player, the coaches called Keesha Pontious the mom of the team, at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Halifax.
Pontious, descended from the Selkirk First Nation and living in Lhtako Dene Territory in Quesnel, was one of the leaders not just of her own sport at NAIG but several others as well. She was a calmer, a booster, an organizer, and a focused athlete all at the same time.
“I made sure everyone had their passes. You couldn’t get anywhere if you didn’t have your pass, do you have your bags?, got everything you need?, I had a whole checklist,” she said, freshly returned from Halifax.
Her assertive traits are perhaps why, in 2022, she was named most improved, most sportsmanlike, and most valuable player all in the same year.
It is perhaps why she tried out for NAIG via the conventional volleyball route, as she had always done, but the Team BC coordinators saw in her the person they wanted to anchor the first ever beach volleyball team in provincial history. She was approached, with a huge yes, to be on the inaugural 19U team coached by Kat Dolguikh.
And it is definitely why Pontious, at merely 17 years of age, was one of only nine athletes from the entire northern half of B.C. to win the regional Premier’s Award for Indigenous Youth Excellence In Sport. Her heritage is important to her, she has been learning beading, for instance, and was enthralled with experiencing the 750 Indigenous nations participating in the NAIG events, where customs were on display almost as much as athletics.
It was her Correlieu Secondary School P.E. teacher Charles Kramer who spotted the award opportunity and directed Pontious to apply. They submitted the package and went about their business, she not at all expecting to hear anything back. But one day, “I came home and there was a huge smile on my mom’s face, like a little kid getting candy,” she said.
After the burst of excitement over winning the regional honour, she wanted to rush straight to Kramer to share the news, but had to eat the thrill until the provincial government made the announcement on their own.
She praised her Cobras volleyball club coaches Dillon Dixon-Chase and Nick Wheeler, as well as the family-like connection of her teammates, for propelling her to this award. She has special appreciation, as well, for her mother who made sure even though a domestic rift a few years ago, that Pontious was still involved in volleyball.
Now, Pontious has a choice: continue with conventional volleyball, or figure out how to take the next steps in the new genre of the sport she now has some experience with. Her partner, Spencer Nelson of Campbell River, is also 17 and also had never played the beach version before.
“My teammate and I only had two practices. We had to build that trust in just a few days. I love her to death, she’s so funny,” said Pontious. Together, they came fourth in North America, and felt that wasn’t bad considering the lack of age and experience in the sand compared to beach volleyball specialists.
She also made friends with someone closer to home, Prince George’s Mischa Krawczyk, 15. Prince George has a brand new beach volleyball facility, and Quesnel has a court at West Fraser Timber Park, so there could be some beach bombs thrown between those two NAIG veterans on area sand. Krawczyk’ partner, Tymeko Collison, lives in faraway Skidegate.
“I want to keep up with it, and maybe even get into coaching beach volleyball,” she said, and she isn’t thinking small. She won’t be age eligible for NAIG again, so, as a player, “there is a beach volleyball team for Team Canada.”
Pontious won’t have much time to laze around and sleep off the jet lag. She departed Halifax just as fatal super-storms flooded the city, and she has emergencies to attend to back home as well. She is a trained wildfire fighter and looks forward to getting into the smoke and ash of protecting her home community.
As a long-term career, though, she knows she likes to travel and she knows she loves the body mechanics of sport, so perhaps therapy or kinesiology might be in her future. Come wildfire or high water, she knows volleyball always will be.