Searching for a word to describe what it's like, coming into the Canola Junior Provincial Curling Championships as a two-time champion, Shannon Birchard settles on "hungry."
She's hungry to earn the provincial three-peat, as the competition kicked off in Portage la Prairie Friday. Hungry to get back to nationals for the third season in a row. And hungry, this time, to come home from that national championship with gold, after falling in the final the last two years in a row.
"Getting back there is the number one goal," Birchard said after besting Team Hannah Brown 8-4 on Friday morning in their first game of the provincial bonspiel's round-robin.
'Getting back there is the No. 1 goal. You know how amazing it is to get there, and to play those teams, and to wear the buffalo on your back'
"You know how amazing it is to get there, and to play those teams, and to wear the buffalo on your back."
For Birchard's teammates, it would be a new experience.
The rest of her St. Vital rink from last year, the one she skipped to the national final in Fort McMurray, all aged out. For this season, the 19-year-old assembled a new trio of third Jenna Boisvert, second Taylor Maida and lead Katrina Thiessen.
Those three, all 17, had played together before, which the skip thought would come in handy.
"I thought the transition to a new team would be a little bit easier, and we'd kind of mesh a little bit better," Birchard said.
Of course, there are 15 other teams in the junior women's bonspiel hungry to foil Birchard's new rink, as the round robin continues through Tuesday with page playoffs set for Dec. 31.
Team Beth Peterson, riding atop the Manitoba Junior Curling Tour standings, entered as the top seed; Kristy Watling and Rachel Burtnyk are also among the top contenders. "There's definitely a lot of added pressure, and a pretty big target on your back coming in and trying to win for the third time," Birchard said.
Whatever happens, the skip has plenty of curling ahead: Birchard also earned a berth to the provincial Scotties Tournament of Hearts in January, almost on a lark.
In her first year of eligibility for the women's championship bonspiel, she cobbled together a rink with her old third Nicole Sigvaldason, second Kelsey Boettcher and lead Megan Sigvaldson.
They punched their ticket to the Scotties with a Dec. 15 regionals win over Team Quinn Sneisen.
While the possibility of playing against established women's curlers such as Chelsea Carey is a thrill, Birchard said her priority remains her junior career.
It's too tough to switch focus in the season, she said, so mostly she's just looking to get her first taste of the provincial women's competition.
"We have a good team going out, and we'll be a bit of a dark horse," she said. "But we're definitely not going in with huge expectations. We're just going to have fun."