Brandon’s Don Thomson has his sights set on New Brunswick this summer, but is keeping an eye on Quebec for 2013.
The longtime Neelin High School basketball coach is heading Manitoba’s 17-and-under girls team for the next two years, delicately balancing putting the province’s best foot forward at this year’s national championship from Aug. 5-12 in Fredericton, N.B., with developing talent for the team that will compete in the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que.
After whittling down the candidates to 25 — including five Westman players — in three days of open tryouts last weekend in Winnipeg, Thomson likes what he sees.
“We have a group of ’95s, which are the 17-year-olds for this summer, which are very strong in the post area and at the point guard spot,” Thomson said. “And then our younger kids are really strong in kind of the 2-3 (positions), the shooting guard, forward spots. And those are the kids that we have to carry through to the Canada Games in a year’s time ...
“I can’t go with a completely senior team (of 17-year-olds), knowing that I have a Canada Games year next year. So you need to have a group of kids come back that are able to help prepare you for the Games.”
Still in the running is 17-year-old Kinsley Ransom of Boissevain, a 6-foot-0 forward who competed in the 2010 15-and-under nationals and has won back-to-back MVP awards at basketball provincials, scoring 26 points while leading the Boissevain Broncos to this year’s AA title. Also surviving the opening cuts were 16-year-old Oak Lake native Heidi Smith, a 5-foot-8 guard who was a member of last year’s 15U provincial team, along with 16-year-old Virden Collegiate teammate Jade Smith (no relation), a 5-foot-8 guard.
Neelin’s Paige Thomson, a 6-foot-0 forward, and Elton’s Kristine Ward, a 5-foot-9 forward, are expected to try out for the 17U team this weekend after the two 16-year-old candidates were unable to attend last weekend’s camp.
Brandon’s Jill Giesbrecht, a standout player with the Vincent Massey Vikings, tried out for the 17-and-under girls team last weekend, while Neelin’s Theo Farough, Quinton Hunter and Chance Miller were cut from the 17-and-under boys program.
Westman has been represented on the provincial team program for the past few years and Thomson said there is a chance a local player could make the final cut again.
“If you look over the last four or five years, you go back to Tia Coulter, Dani DeGagne, Josie DeGagne the last couple of years, and Brittany Wiebe and Heidi Smith played last year, so those kids are out there (in Westman) and knocking on the door,” Thomson said.
“I think the kids that we’ve mentioned have really worked hard and I also believe the coaches in this area have really worked hard to build their programs so these kids have the opportunity to compete now (for provincial team spots).”
Thomson hopes to cut down to 16 players this weekend, with the final roster to be set at 12 players and two alternates.
Meanwhile, Neelin will be the site of the April 22 tryouts for Westman’s 16-and-under boys and girls basketball teams for this year’s Manitoba Summer Games — July 16 to 21 in Swan River. Jeremy Wielenga, an assistant coach with the Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team, will coach the Westman boys team, while Neelin coach Melissa Stoesz, a former assistant with the BU women’s basketball team, will run this year’s Westman girls team.