Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Junior provincial curling championships Birchards aiming for junior sweep

Both skip No. 2 seeds at upcoming provincials

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What's in a name? Well, next week at this time, it could be two different Manitoba junior curling champions.

Daniel Birchard, 19, and his sister Shannon Birchard, 17 are both skipping their own teams at the provincial junior men's and junior women's curling championships this week.

While it is not uncommon for siblings to be curling in the same year at a provincial juniors, what is rare is that both Birchards are skips and both have an excellent chance of actually winning provincial titles over the course of the next week.

The two Birchard foursomes have both been named second seeds heading into this week's provincials, which begin today at the West Kildonan Curling Club (junior men) and Minnedosa Curling Club (junior women).

"We're both obviously really excited to be ranked second. It's a great opportunity for both of us," Shannon Birchard said Wednesday.

The path the Birchard siblings took to this moment is a bit of a deviation from the curling standard. Elite curlers are most commonly the product of families in which curling runs deep, but Daniel Birchard says there was only a very casual curling background in the Birchard family tree until he took the game up at a young age.

"It just kind of snowballed from there," Birchard recalled. "Shannon got into it as well. And then my mom. And then my dad got back into it. And then the whole entire family, even my grandma started curling. All these people who had never curled before -- it just kind of snowballed together and we're now just this big curling family."

There are advantages in the synergy that has resulted. Daniel Birchard said the siblings learn strategy from watching each other's games.

And when one of them decided to switch to a tuck delivery a few years ago, the other followed suit at the same time and they then practised it together.

"We talk about curling all the time," says Shannon Birchard, a Grade 12 student at St. John's-Ravenscourt. " We're all involved in each other's curling life."

Both Birchard siblings have had prodigious curling careers. Shannon Birchard qualified for her first provincial juniors at the age of 12 and hasn't missed a chance to qualify since -- a run of six straight provincials.

Daniel, meanwhile, skips a team that has been together as a unit for seven years now -- almost unheard of in junior curling -- and which last year lost the provincial final.

With both teams on the cusp of something very special, Daniel Birchard said the family has unfortunately had to split up this week -- with Shannon and mother Heidi Birchard set up all week in Minnedosa, while Daniel and father/coach Bruce compete at West Kildonan.

Provincial juniors

get underway today

The Manitoba junior men's and women's provincial curling championships get underway today at the West Kildonan Curling Club and Minnedosa Curling Club, respectively.

Both events run through Monday, when Manitoba's junior men and junior womens curling champions will be determined. Those teams will then go on to represent the province at the Canadian Juniors in Napanee, Ont., Feb. 4-12.

Fort Rouge's Joey Witherspoon and Victoria's Alyssa Vandepoele are the top seeds in the two 16-team events.

Draw times today through Sunday are 8:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 4 p,m. and 7:45 p.m.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 5, 2012 D6

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