He hauled in a bundle of individual awards over the past year, but Bruce Akubukaka is most proud of how his volleyball teams performed.
The 16-year-old Maples resident led his Daniel McIntyre Maroons junior varsity boys to a second-place finish in the provincial championship, and was part of a fourth-place showing at the national club championships with his 16-and-under Winman team.
The left-side power hitter said his highlight of the season — which saw him named an all-star at the club nationals, MVP at the high school and club provincials, Manitoba Volleyball Association player of the year for his age group, and the JV athlete of the year at the school — was the Maroons’ lengthy stint atop the junior varsity rankings until they lost in the provincial final to Mennonite Brethren.
"My teammates and coaches all take so much time to help me," Akubukaka said. "I don’t see anything as an individual award."
Heather Ruby, the JV coach at Daniel Mac, said Akubukaka winning the MVP award despite his team losing in the finals demonstrates just how gifted he is at the sport.
"That doesn’t happen very often," she said. "That’s a big statement. When you see him play, you’re amazed by how well he jumps and how hard he hits it."
Akubukaka, who moved to Canada from Burundi when he was in Grade 4, is one part of a very diverse team at the West End school.
"The team shows how diversified our area is," Ruby said. "We have one player from the Caribbean, one from Vietnam, one from the Philippines, some from Africa, and only one Caucasian."
The coach said team sports are a great way for students of different backgrounds to come together, but the players don’t even give it a second thought.
"We just care about the game," Akubukaka said. "I just think about how we can get better. We can be one of the best teams Daniel Mac’s ever had."
Akubukaka played volleyball, basketball and soccer when he came to Canada, and said adapting to a new lifestyle and culture wasn’t difficult.
"I got used to it pretty fast," he said. "I guess I’m just an outgoing person."
Although his mother thinks soccer is his best sport, Akubukaka developed a passion for volleyball and has now made it his primary focus.
"I just love how challenging it is, and how it makes you think," Akubukaka said about the sport.
He’s hoping to continue his development, and to earn a scholarship at a West Coast school, either in Canada or the U.S. The academic side of that equation shouldn’t be a problem for Akubukaka, as he carries an 88% average.
"He’s just a natural leader," Ruby said. "On the court and in the classroom."