Kristi Howell will be leading the B.C. Under 19 volleyball team to the Indigenous Games in Regina

Bump, set, spike!

Volleyball athletes from Fort St. James prepare for Indigenous Games.

Kristi Howell has a passion for volleyball.

The young mother has been playing and competing in the sport for much of her life, starting to play competitively in Grade 9. She is still an active participant in local beach volleyball in the summer and drop-in volleyball in Kwah Hall.

“I really just like being active,” she said. “It’s something I’m passionate about.”

She is also one of the organizers of the annual Kora-Lee Prince Memorial Volleyball Tournament, held in memory of her sister who was lost through the ice in a snowmobile accident nine years ago this month.

Howell said volleyball was a family affair, and she and her sister played together and were always competitive.

“It was just something we always did,” she said.

This lifelong passion led Howell to the Indigenous Games as an athlete when she was about 14, playing on the B.C. Under 16 volleyball team in Winnipeg.

She returned a few years later to play for the B.C. Under 19 volleyball team in Denver, Colorado.

As a young woman, Howell said the games helped teach her a lot.

“It was really amazing,” she said. “It was a very eye-opening experience, especially when you come from a small town.”

She will have a chance to share her passion with the next generation, as she prepares to head to Regina, Saskatchewan as a coach for the 2014 Indigenous Games this summer.

As a coach, Howell is looking forward to sharing her experience with some young athletes.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the girls’ experiences.”

She already attended the many selection camps across the province to help evaluate players and select both the under 16 and under 19 team players.

With only 24 spots for both teams up for grabs, 68 young women turned out to try for the teams.

“It was nice to have that good of a turnout,” she said. “It made it easier, but it also made it harder.

“It’s sad when you have to turn people away.”

She said the young women can expect to work hard and while it is challenging to play together as a team when there are so few practices together before the competition, it’s a good experience.

The competition can help the young players learn more about who they want to be as people and as an athlete, said Howell.

The coaching position is a volunteer role, which will be a challenge for Howell, who will have  a two-month-old baby when the games take place.

She will have her husband there to help her, but it will still be hard work.

“It’s definitely going to be a learning curve,” she said. “As a team player, I give it a hundred per cent coaching as if I was playing.”

And Howell will not be the only volleyball player from Fort St. James headed to the games.

Two local athletes have also made the B.C. Under 16 team: Kaylee Walstrom and Sydney Tibbets.

Kaylee is 15 and in Grade 10 and will be playing the power position for the team.

“I’m really excited,” she said of the opportunity.

The selection camp was a new experience, with coaches watching the players’ every move with clipboards in hand.

“It was nerve-wracking,” she said.

Kaylee said she’s looking forward to the trip, and experiencing the opening ceremonies – a five to seven-hour event – but it is intimidating to be on a team she has notplayed with before.

Sydney, who is only 14 and in Grade 9, will play off-side position for the team.

Sydney said the selection camp was less stressful than she had thought it would be – she expected more running and cardio work.

“I had a lot of fun actually,” she said.

The young athlete is looking forward to having the chance to meet other young indigenous athletes, experience different cultures and see how such a large event works.

“I’m so excited to meet new friends,” she said.

The 2014 North American Indigenous Games will take place July 20-27.