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It's only a nightmare if your eyes are closed

Attitude is everything in junior curling

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For most of them, it's the culmination of a dream.

But for some of the teams competing at Granite Curling Club this weekend in the Manitoba junior curling championships, it's a dream that can quickly turn into a nightmare.

It is in the nature of junior curling -- where kids as young as 13 can find themselves playing against adults as old as 21 -- that blowouts are frequent.

Conventional wisdom is that this is a good thing, that young teams can learn the most valuable lessons by getting shellacked by an older and wiser opponent.

But I wonder if that's really true. The opposite is certainly true in horse racing -- where I spend the rest of my life at this paper. You'd never dream of running a $5,000 claimer in a stake race -- and for good reason.

Any wise trainer will tell you that you can literally "break a horse's heart" by having him try his hardest and still get outclassed by his competition.

They're never the same after that in racing and I went to the Granite last night to find out if maybe it's the same with young curling teams, that maybe we're breaking some of their competitive spirits by putting them in over their heads.

Take the eight-team black pool at the junior women's provincials. Heading into this morning, there are three teams still perfect at 4-0 and three teams still winless at 0-4.

So what's it like to be one of those teams at 0-4? "It's been kind of hard to come out here," said Virden skip Erin Renard, 18. "We're trying our best -- but we just haven't been able to pull it all together as a team."

So is Renard benefitting by the experience? She thinks so. "We're playing against some really competitive teams that we don't really have a chance to beat. But it's challenging us and giving us something to aim towards."

The question of whether teams like Renard's are well-served by competing at a high level is particularly pertinent right now, as the Manitoba Curling Association sets up a committee that will be charged with doing a sweeping review of the way we conduct curling championships of all kinds.

A big part of that review will study whether it's time to shrink the number of teams we allow to compete in most provincials, from 16 to maybe as few as eight, like many other provinces do.

The instant result of such a move would be more competitive zone playdowns and, presumably, more parity once those teams reach the provincials.

But in so doing, would we -- to return to the racing analogy -- be denying the underdog Seabiscuits of the curling world the chance to rise above their station and prove that pure heart can still trump raw talent? And isn't that what competitive sport is supposed to be all about?

The Jesse Iles team thinks so. The 16th-seeded girls from The Pas -- none older than 15 -- were 0-3 heading into their game Saturday afternoon against fourth-seeded Kate Cameron of Victoria Curling Club, who was 3-0.

Final score -- 8-2. For Iles.

"This is our first provincials," says their 13-year-old skip. "We weren't expecting to win any games. All we wanted to do is prove the (seedings) wrong and exceed people's expectations."

Done and done.


Johnson leads black pool

at junior championships


THE round-robins have passed the midway point at the Manitoba junior men's and women's curling championships at Granite Curling Club.

In the junior men's championship, Portage's Michael Johnson is alone atop the eight-team black pool at 4-0, followed by Pembina's Daniel Birchard, Petersfield's Steen Sigurdson and Brandon's Joey Witherspoon, all at 3-1.

Former provincial junior champion Travis Bale of Springfield and Sam Good of Pembina were the only undefeated teams remaining in the red pool heading into the late draw last night. Bale and Good were both 3-0.

In the junior women's championship, defending Canadian junior women's champion Kaitlyn Lawes of Pembina is tied at 4-0 with Victoria's Sarah Lund and three-time Manitoba junior champion Sabrina Neufeld atop the black pool.

Assiniboine-Memorial's Michelle Montford and Ste. Anne's Alyssa Vandepoele were 3-0 heading into yesterday's late draw.


Bohn among qualifiers


AT the Manitoba Curling Tour championships in Morris, David Bohn, Mike McEwen and Doug Riach all qualified Saturday for today's playoff round. Three more qualifying games were underway last night.

In the women's event, Janet Harvey and Kim Link qualified, while two more qualifiers were being determined last night.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2009 C4

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