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This article was published 5/2/2019 (313 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba's powerhouse under-20 ringette squad is a solid favourite to strike gold at the Canada Winter Games later this month, so it made perfect sense for organizers to select one of the team's stars to serve as the province's flag-bearer.
Alana Lesperance, a 19-year-old University of Manitoba student, was thrilled with the honour.
"I can't even put it into words," Lesperance said Tuesday at a news conference to unveil her selection ahead of the Games, slated for Feb. 15 to March 3 in Red Deer, Alta.
Where: Red Deer, Alta.
When: Feb. 15 to March 3
Chef de mission: Marcie Halls-Stronciski
2019 team: 208 athletes, 46 coaches, 14 managers, eight tech support workers and 20 mission staff
2015 Winter Games: Manitoba finished sixth with 16 medals, including six gold, three silver and seven bronze at the Games in Prince George, B.C.
"Our province has so many good athletes and they put in so much effort, so to be able to represent each and every one of them is really a privilege. That's exciting."
Lesperance plans to enjoy the Games' opening ceremony, but has some serious ambitions for the competition to follow.
"Winning gold," said Lesperance. "I mean, our team was selected in May and we've been putting in so many hours, sacrificing a lot of things — my school work for sure. I think we'll do really well."
The Canada Games ringette competition kicks off Feb. 15 and continues until the medal games on Feb. 22. Quebec, Ontario and Alberta are also considered contenders for gold.
Lesperance is among the most decorated members of the provincial team. She has medalled at three of the five national championships she's attended, was named an all-star in four of the five and was honoured as the toughest competitor at one of the nationals.
She was also a member of the junior national team in 2017.
'I can't even put it into words. Our province has so many good athletes and they put in so much effort, so to be able to represent each and every one of them is really a privilege. That's exciting' – Alana Lesperance, Team Manitoba flag bearer
Added teammate Kelsey Gillan, another U of M student: "I would say we have a good chance of making it to the final. It's going to be a hard competition. We haven't played some of the teams since October, so we don't know what to expect from them."
Co-coach Andrea Ferguson believes her squad is up to the task after an excellent pre-Games schedule that included major tournament wins in Quebec in January and Ontario in November, beating the host teams for gold each time.
"It is gold or bust," said Ferguson, who was also on the coaching staff that guided Manitoba to gold at the 2015 Games in Prince George, B.C.
Cleo Wermann Thorn
Artistic gymnastics – trampoline
Ainslee Reynante Tolentino
Brett Van Nieuw Amerongen
Scott Van Horne
Ryan Van Berkel
"We've talked about that a little bit and I'd say we have a target on our backs based on finishes at previous tournaments. We won the last two tournaments and finished second in the first two.
"They're all well-rounded, they're all incredible kids."
Manitoba, captained by Milica Oravec of Oakbank, is an effective blend of youth and experience. The squad includes two 16-year-olds and four 17-year-olds.
"I've actually had the pleasure of coaching the majority of the team for the last three years prior to this, so we created a nucleus that I was familiar with and the girls as a unit are incredible," said Ferguson.
"They work hard, they understand what it means to win, they understand what it takes to win and they understand the hard work that goes into it. So I'm really looking forward to competing."
Nicole Hekle was the only previous ringette player to serve as flag-bearer for Manitoba. Hekle represented her province at the 2003 Games in Bathurst-Campbellton, N.B., and went on to lead her team in scoring as Manitoba earned a silver medal that year.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 5:48 PM CST: Adds team Manitoba list