Westman teams enjoyed success at the provincial, national and international level in 2012, creating plenty of competition for this year’s Mike Jones team of the year award.
Here’s a look at this year’s 10 finalists — listed in alphabetical order — for the 39th annual team award with the winner to be announced in the Jan. 2 edition of the Brandon Sun:
BANTAM WHEAT KINGS (Hockey)
Playing in the always tough Winnipeg AAA Bantam Hockey League, the Brandon A & W Bantam AA Wheat Kings had one of their best seasons in years in 2011-12, flirting with first place until late in the season before finishing second overall with an 18-9-2-1 record. Led by league-leading goaltender Tyson Verhelst, defenceman James Shearer and scoring leader Jordy Stallard — all picked in the 2012 WHL bantam draft — the Wheat Kings advanced all the way to the provincial Rural Bantam AAA final. However, coach Chris Johnston’s team came up short there, dropping a 6-4 decision to the Pembina Valley Hawks in the gold medal game, and came home with silver medals.
The Brandon Bantam AAA Knights started strong and finished strong in a memorable baseball season for the Wheat City’s top 14-and-under players. Coached by Brad Schoonbaert, the Knights made the most of home field advantage by beating South Central 8-3 to win the UCT Canada Day Classic at Simplot Millennium Park behind an 11-strikeout performance from Mitchell Lyall. Marshal Burgess also tossed a complete-game no-hitter in that tournament. However, the Knights had to settle for silver medals in the provincial championship, advancing to the final before falling 1-2 to the Winnipeg South Chiefs. But a couple of weeks later, the Knights got their gold medals at the Western Canadian Bantam AAA Championship in Regina, beating the Regina Pacers 11-3 to close out their season in style.
The Barbarians were the top team in Rugby Manitoba’s Division 1 senior men’s league in 2012, compiling an 11-4-0 first-place record. Led by talented fly half Sean Common and coached by Jon Fitzpatrick, the Barbarians advanced to their fourth straight provincial final after edging the Winnipeg Wasps 18-17 in the semifinals at Brandon’s John Reilly Field. However, a great season ended on a disappointing note for the Barbarians in September’s provincial final in Winnipeg, as the University of Manitoba Wombats won their third straight title with a 20-16 triumph as Brandon settled for second for the fourth straight season.
Virden-based pairs skaters Paige Lawrence, 22, and Rudi Swiegers, 25, continued to put Westman on the national figure skating map by earning bronze medals at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Moncton, N.B., in January. Originally from Saskatchewan but now living and training full-time in Virden under coach Patty Hole for the past three seasons, Lawrence and Swiegers added a fourth-place finish at the prestigious Skate Canada International event in October in Windsor, Ont., before heading overseas to finish fourth in the Grand Prix Tour stop in Moscow on Nov. 10. Lawrence and Swiegers will look to improve upon their bronze-medal finish at the 2013 Canadian championships next month in Mississauga, Ont., as they continue to try to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Led by league rushing leader Tyler Minshull, the Spartans posted a solid 6-1 regular-season record — including four shutouts — in the Winnipeg High School Football League’s Andy Currie Division. Coach Robert Cullen’s team then mowed down the Daniel McIntyre Maroons 53-0 in the A Division quarter-finals, before grinding out an 8-3 victory over the Kenora (Ont.) Beaver Brae Broncos in the league semifinals to advance to reach its first WHSFL division final. However, there would be no storybook finish as Neelin fell 31-6 to the Steinbach Sabres in the Nov. 8 championship game at Winnipeg’s Canad Inns Stadium.
The Spartans’ season was nothing short of remarkable as the AAA-sized school stepped up to win the provincial AAAA varsity girls high school volleyball title. And head coach Kevin Neufeld’s team did it without a single Grade 12 player on the team. Neelin, which featured 10 members of the provincial club champion Storm Spartans U-16 team, posted an overall record of 33-7-2 on the season on the way to winning the Brandon High School League title and advancing to provincials. There, the Spartans beat Brandon’s Vincent Massey Vikings in the quarter-finals, the Glenlawn Lions in the semifinals and the top-ranked MBCI Hawks 3-1 (18-25, 25-12, 25-23, 25-20) in the provincial final on Nov. 26 in Winnipeg. Amy Gordon was named the tournament MVP, Alison Quiring and Kristine Ward made the all-star team, while Paige Thomson was Neelin’s player of the match in the final.
(Senior men’s curling)
After winning their second straight provincial senior men’s curling crown, Robertson’s foursome brought back a silver medal from the world senior championships in Taarnby, Denmark in April. Robertson, from Neepawa, third Doug Armour of Souris, second Peter Prokopowich of Dauphin and lead Bob Scales of Winnipeg had posted a perfect 8-0 record at the worlds before falling 6-5 in an extra end to Ireland’s John Jo Kenny in the championship final. Robertson’s team, which earned its trip to the worlds by winning the 2011 national title, didn’t fare as well in its return to the 2012 Canadian championships, posting a 6-5 record and missing the playoffs.
The Souris-based Cougars had one of their most successful seasons ever, coming up one win away from qualifying for the Telus Cup Canadian Midget AAA hockey championship. Led by scoring leader Lucas Oliver up front and first-round WHL bantam draft pick Jordan Thomson on defence, the Cougars posted an impressive 35-5-4 record to top the West Division and advance to the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League final before being swept by the Winnipeg Wild. However, the Cougars — coached by Troy Leslie — made the most of their second chance as the host team of the Telus Western Regional tournament, beating the Wild 3-2 to advance to the final before falling 5-1 to the Saskatoon Contacts in Virden in April.
VINCENT MASSEY VIKINGS
The Vikings had their most successful season ever in the Winnipeg High School Football League, posting a solid 4-2-1 record in the regular season in the Kas Vidruk Division — the league’s AA Division — and coming within a win of advancing to a championship game. Coach Mike Steeves’ team had the most dominant defence in the division — allowing only 88 points against — and shut down the Kildonan East Reivers 15-0 in the league quarter-finals in Winnipeg to earn their first ever playoff victory in the Winnipeg league. That victory vaulted the Vikings into the division semifinals on Nov. 1 when their season came to an end at the hands of the undefeated Grant Park Pirates, who earned a 37-7 victory.
VINCENT MASSEY VIKINGS
The Vikings started the season with a bang, winning the Top 8 Debate and Westman Invitational high school volleyball tournaments to take the No.1 ranking in the province. Vincent Massey gradually gave way to their crosstown rivals, the Neelin Spartans, in the AAAA rankings but continued to have a solid season, even after losing one of their top players, Jill Giesbrecht, to a concussion. Overall, coach Greg Beckwith’s team won 79 of the 128 sets it played this season, placed Kelsey Pettinger was named to the all-Manitoba team and also impressed off the court by raising more than $2,700 for Cancer Care Manitoba. At provincials, the Vikings beat the J.H. Bruns Broncos in the first round before falling to the Spartans in straight sets in the quarter-finals.
» Brandon Sun