Joey Witherspoon has been to the top of the mountain. Now, he'd like to see the other side.
The 20-year-old Fort Rouge skip came into this week's Manitoba Junior Men's Curling Championship as the top seed, a testament not only to the strength of his team's current season on the cashspiel circuit -- they've won money on the men's circuit, as well as junior men's -- but also to his curling resume on the national scene.
Curling third in 2010 for Deer Lodge's Alex Forrest, Witherspoon came within a 10th-end deuce of winning what would have been Manitoba's first Canadian junior men's curling championship since David Hamblin won way back in 2002.
But close counts for nothing in national curling championships where there is no consolation prize to the runner-up and that 10th-end deuce by Ontario's Jake Walker gave Ontario an 8-7 victory in the 2010 Canadian final and left Manitoba's Witherspoon -- who had finished first in the round-robin and had the bye to the final -- wondering what might have been.
"It was rough. We were that close and obviously we were favoured going into that game," Witherspoon said Thursday between games at the West Kildonan Curling Club.
"We went in there thinking we had a pretty good shot and we played pretty well and thought we outplayed them and felt we deserved it.
"But when it comes down to one shot like that and he makes it, it's really heart-breaking.
"But at the same time, we took a lot out of it. And we ended up second-best in Canada, which is nothing to hang your head about.
"So we moved on from that. It was tough, but it also makes you hungry to get back there knowing that you were so close. You want that second chance -- and hopefully this week, we'll get that second chance."
Joining Witherspoon this week from that Forrest team is Conner Njegovan, who played second for Forrest but is the third on Witherspoon's team.
Witherspoon also skipped his own team at the 2011 provincial juniors, but lost the semifinal to eventual champion, Sam Good.
This season, the foursome -- which also includes second Taylor McIntyre and lead Brett Brezden -- had a solid cashspiel circuit, taking down a couple of first-place purses in some junior events and also earning qualifying cheques for playoff performances in Manitoba Curling Tour events in Carberry and Dauphin.
And so at age 20 and in his final year of eligibility as a junior, this week represents Witherspoon's last chance to erase that memory of what might have been. The junior men's champion at West Kildonan -- and the junior women's champion in Minnedosa -- go on to represent Manitoba at next month's Canadian juniors in Napanee, Ont.
"That experience (in 2010) is invaluable," said Forrest. "You learn so much. It gets you used to the pressure and that big-game mentality and everything that comes with it. It was obviously a great experience and it's really helped me as a skip."
THERE were plenty of upsets on the opening two draws of the Manitoba junior men's and junior women's curling championships on Thursday.
At the junior women's event at the Minnedosa Curling Club, fourth seed Katie Spencer was beaten 9-4 by unseeded Kayla Curtis of LaSalle, while sixth seed Ashley Jahns of The Pas fell 9-4 to Victoria's unseeded Beth Peterson. The other seeds -- first seed Alyssa Vandepoele, second seed Shannon Birchard, third seed Brianne Meilleur, fifth seed Erika Sigurdson, seventh seed Jackie Hebert and eighth seed Rebecca Lamb -- all won their opening games.
At the junior men's event at West Kildonan Curling Club, fifth seed Matt Dunstone of St. Vital lost his opener 7-6 to Springfield's unseeded Nicholas Joyal; sixth seed Cole Peters of Deer Lodge lost 6-5 to La Salle's unseeded Kyle Curtis; and eighth seed Derek Harrison of Charleswood lost 6-5 to unseeded Todd Boisvert of Burntwood.
The other seeds -- No. 1 Joey Witherspoon, No. 2 Daniel Birchard, No. 3 Derek Blanchard, No. 4 Kyle Doering and No. 7 Tanner Lott -- all won their openers.