There couldn’t have been a more exciting finish to the Canola Provincial Junior Curling Championships at the Brandon Curling Club on Monday.
The women’s final came down to a measurement in the 10th end before Winnipeg’s Shannon Birchard was declared a 7-6 winner over Winnipeg’s Selena Kaatz. Two sheets over, the men’s final went two extra ends before Winnipeg’s Matt Dunstone drew to the button with his final shot to beat Winnipeg’s Daniel Birchard 8-7.
It was the second straight junior women’s title for Birchard and the first for Dunstone, who broke down in tears before walking off the ice.
"Anytime you win the provincial championship, it’s the biggest thing you’ve ever won," Dunstone said. "I’d say this is the biggest thing we’ve all won before. … It means the world to me. My grandparents had done it before, my dad hasn’t done it yet, but I’m just following in their footsteps."
Jim and Carole Dunstone, Matt’s grandparents, won the 1971 and 1980 provincial mixed titles. Carole also has the 1983 women’s and 2003 senior women’s provincial titles to her credit.
Dunstone, who curls with Colton Lott, Daniel Grant and Brendan MacCuish, appeared to be in control of the men’s final early. He took advantage of a pair of Birchard misses that resulted in two steals and a 5-2 lead after five ends. Birchard, however, came back to tie the game in the seventh.
Dunstone had a straight-back double for the win in the 10th end, but he only removed one stone, gave up a steal and went to an extra end. He blanked the 11th with a double-raise, double takeout and then drew the button against three Birchard counters to win the provincial title.
The game was a grind for both sides, and Dunstone, who didn’t throw a draw between his last rock in the ninth end and the game’s final shot, was relieved he didn’t need a 13th end.
"I’m glad it didn’t go to a third (extra end) or I probably would have shook hands," joked Dunstone, who defeated defending champion Kyle Doering 7-6 in Monday’s semifinal. "Everyone was getting a little tired out here, but what a great final against such a great team in Birchard. Words can’t describe it."
The women’s final was just as tense. The game featured two skips who won a national junior women’s silver medal together last season. Kaatz was Shannon Birchard’s third and decided to form her own squad.
Kaatz reached this year’s final be beating Winnipeg’s Beth Peterson 7-3 in Monday’s semifinal and then went blow for blow with her former skip.
Neither team managed to lead by more than one during the final, but the tide turned in the seventh end when Kaatz rolled out on an open hit that would have set her up to score three and give her a two-point lead.
Kaatz settled for a deuce and Birchard replied with a deuce in the eighth end when she raised a guard onto frozen rocks in the four foot.
Birchard forced Kaatz to a single in the ninth and then drew the button in the 10th and won the measurement to claim her second-straight title.
"Drawing the button to win, that’s a great way to win," said Birchard, who curls with Nicole Sigvaldason, Sheyna Andries and Mariah Mondor. "They played well and it was a really tough game. It was so close."
Both Dunstone and Birchard will now represent Manitoba at the national junior curling championships from Feb. 2-10 at Fort McMurray, Alta.
While Dunstone just wants to represent Manitoba with pride, Birchard is looking to improve on last year’s second-place finish.
"It’s the most amazing experience being there," she said. "To go back and potentially get further than we did last year would be a great opportunity."
EXTRA END: Brandon’s Brian Moffatt coached Nathaniel Swanson’s team at the junior men’s event all week.