BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Baldur’s Chelsea Dearsley works on her swing in a Westman Magic Peewee girls softball practice this week. The Magic will represent Westman at the Manitoba Games next week.
Athletes going to participate in the Manitoba Summer Games next week will have an experience of a lifetime in Swan River.
Golfer Kolby Day will compete for Team Westman in Swan River next week. (FILE PHOTO)
Brandon baseball player Jackson Popple. (FILE PHOTO)
Brandon Bluefins member Meghan Blad will be part of Westman’s swim team at the Manitoba Summer Games next week. (FILE PHOTO)
Goalkeeper Josh Robinson will represent Westman in boys soccer next week in Swan River. (FILE PHOTO)
Most of the 196 Westman athletes, coaches, managers and mission staff haven’t experienced living in an athletes’ village, nor having the whole region to support individual teams and athletes. It’s an event each Westman representative is hoping they will enjoy.
"I’m really looking forward to it," said Jackson Popple, a 14-year-old Brandonite and member of Westman’s baseball team who will attend his first Manitoba Games. "It will be a good experience and I think it will be fun."
Here’s a look at each of Westman’s teams at the Games, which run from Monday through Saturday.
The Summer Games will be an eye-opening experience for most of the track and field athletes, as many of the Team Westman athletes haven’t been to any type of provincial competition before.
The team hasn’t practised very much before the competition — which starts Monday — but there is some hope for Mallory Workman to win a medal in midget girls javelin — as she did at high school provincials.
While the competitors would like to win medals, they’re also focusing on enjoying the atmosphere.
"I want to meet some new friends and maybe place in some events," said 11-year-old Brandonite Kaitlyn Slator, who’s competing in ball throw, discus and relay. "I think (I have a chance to medal), because I’ve been training really hard."
There will be no rest for Westman’s baseball team when they take to the diamond on Monday.
Westman is in a tough pool with two Winnipeg teams and one from the Central region, and they have only been together for a few weeks. The good news, however, is that the top three teams from the group advances to the medal round.
Popple, a 5-foot-8 right fielder, knows it will be a difficult road to earning a medal, but he said Westman has a chance if it gets solid pitching and plays great defence.
"It will be tough, but we’ll have to pull it out," he said. "(It will take) hard work and determination."
Westman’s girls basketball team is expecting a tough preliminary round at the Summer Games. They open the tournament against the host team, Parkland, on Monday and also have to play Eastman and Winnipeg Blue, with the top two teams reaching the semifinals.
However, assistant coach Cailee Plante of Brandon thinks her team has a good chance at reaching the playoffs based on its dynamics. Since the squad was formed in April, Plante said the players have grown together and are working as one unit instead of looking at one person to step up and lead the team.
"I think all the girls have various amounts of leadership qualities that are going to shine throughout all the games," she said.
"We’ve been working extremely hard to get into the motion of things and we’re just going to compete hard and hope for a win," she continued.
The boys basketball team is expected to have its hands full when it takes to the court during Phase 2 of the Games. While most teams will feature a lot of Grade 10 students, Westman has a lot of players who are in Grade 9.
Coach Jeremy Wielenga, an assistant coach with the Brandon University Bobcats, knows that the Parkland, Eastman and Winnipeg Blue teams — who are in Westman’s preliminary group — will be more experienced and favoured to win, but he’s hoping his players — led by Brandon’s Quinton Hunter — will be up to the challenge.
"If we play good basketball, we’ll be OK," he said. "It will be tough playing Parkland. It’s the host region and I’m sure there will be a lot of support in the local community in Swan River. The first game will be a great atmosphere in the gym and hopefully we can come out and play some good basketball, get a win and take it from there in Game 2."
Without a strong cycling community in Westman, head coach Hewson Elliott of Brandon found it hard to recruit athletes.
He found five willing to participate in the event through word-of-mouth advertising, but he isn’t looking for medals. Instead, he just wants the team to enjoy their time in Phase 2 competitions like he did during his Games experiences.
"I want them to try as hard as they can and show what Westman is capable of," he said. " … I’m hoping they just try their best and have a lot of fun and get the most out of the experience. I know from my experience, the Games is probably one of the best things I’ve done, so I want them to enjoy it a lot as well."
Westman’s golf team is full of confidence as it prepares to play in the two-round event at the Swan Valley Golf and Country Club on Thursday.
All of Westman’s golfers made the team by being the top competitors in a qualifying tournament in June at the Shilo Country Club. Brandon’s Kolby Day, who’s competing in his first Manitoba Games, believes some of the eight team members should have a shot at winning a medal, even though only Tanner Kyle and Zach Whitecloud have previous Games experience.
"I believe that we have a very strong group of golfers," he said. "We’ve all played together and we all know what we’re capable of doing. We have some strong ball hitters, chippers, putters, iron players. We’re all good and consistent and a good group of golfers."
Brandon’s Hayley Shanks will also be competing, but she will join the Eastman team, since they were short of golfers.
Westman’s sailors are ready to race around Wellman Lake starting Monday.
The region will be represented in boys and girls optimist and laser boat classes with one racer each. Gabriel Odowichuk, who’s from Winnipeg but trains at Pelican Lake, thinks the Westman racers have as good of a chance at winning a medal as the other competitors.
"I think we’re a decent team," said the 12-year-old, who’s competing in the boys optimist event. "The Gimli team is also pretty good because they have a big lake to sail on. I think every team is about even."
Head coach Jeff Maxwell feels Westman should be one of the favourites in the girls soccer event, which runs during the first half of the Games.
The players were selected after a training camp in June, 2011, but they were more used to playing each other in house leagues rather than playing together until practices picked up last month. Now the team is gelling and Maxwell likes their chances in a preliminary round pool that features Parkland, NorMan and Interlake.
"We’ve played a number of the other teams in exhibition games over the last couple months and we’ve been quite successful against them," said Maxwell, who’s impressed with how much his players have developed in the last year. "Our goal is to be successful, but with sports all we can do is prepare ourselves the best we can and put our best foot forward."
Westman’s boys soccer team has been practising together since August and working hard to prepare for the Games.
The team, which competes in a group with Interlake, Eastman and Winnipeg Blue during the first half of the week-long event, trained indoors during the winter and played at a few tournaments this spring.
Coach Rainer Schira said Westman doesn’t know much about its opponents, but his goal is for his squad to be competitive in every game it plays.
"The goal in terms of what to do is to compete with the others," he said. "Winning the tournament would be great, but it’s a matter of the boys having to realize that if they work hard, put their mind to it and if they play as a team, they can have fun on the field."
Head coach Rob Greenwood of Brandon believes Westman may need to rely on its team chemistry and pitching to succeed in the softball preliminary round in Benito during Phase 2.
The team was formed in September and has played together as the under-14 Westman Magic this spring. After a quick start to their season, the squad’s bats have fallen silent which means they may rely more on Ciara Zarn and Brittany Krahn from Killarney, Virden’s Mackenzie Roach, Boissevain’s Jasmine Pipella and Brandon’s Emma Greenwood on the mound to get past Central, Parkland and Winnipeg Gold to reach the medal round.
However, Greenwood feels his team has an advantage as the Magic are competing in provincials this weekend and the players have been together for a long time.
"There aren’t that many girls in our province who play together, other than the northern team," he said. "We know who Parkland is and we know who Central is and that kind of thing. It’s Winnipeg we’re worried about, I guess."
The Brandon Bluefins dominate the Westman roster with 13 of the 16 swimmers coming from the Brandon-based club.
While the swimmers are comfortable with each other, it was just a challenge to get back into their regimen as the Games occur in swimming’s off-season.
Still, 14-year-old swimmer Meghan Blad, who’s competing in the 50-metre breaststroke, freestyle, butterfly and backstroke as well as the 100m IM and breaststroke, thinks Westman competitors can leave the pool with a few medals.
"We have some really strong swimmers on the team and we could definitely get something done there," the Brandonite said. "(Personally, I want to) get some medals and some personal best times and just improve there."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 14, 2012