Top seeds targets

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:19 AM ET

They may both be No. 1 but they are also well aware that teams named Flett will be the sentimental favourites when the provincials championships get underway tomorrow.

Although Kyle Flett died as the result of a snowmobile accident recently, his Petersfield team will carry on under his name at the Target Junior Men's Provincial Championship in Rivers while Kyle's sister, Kerri, will be skipping one of the top junior women's squads in Virden. And Kyle was hoping this would be "a Flett-Flett year" before he died, Kerri said recently.

"They're in the other pool so I'll be rooting for them," Pembina's top-seeded Andrew Irving said yesterday. "But when it comes right down to it, we're going out there to curl."

St. Vital's top-seeded Calleen Neufeld echoed those sentiments.

"It's sad what happened and I'm really pumped for them," said the reigning Manitoba champ. "But we're out there to win and they're out there to win. So, it's a curling game when it comes down to it."

Kerri Flett will also be in the opposing pool.

Neufeld, 20, is looking to become the first to skip a junior squad to three straight titles since Patti Vande (now Wuthrich) turned the trick exactly 30 years ago.

"We won't think about that until the final," she said cautiously.

And she knows all about being a target at the Target.

"We were No. 1 last year, too, and we're handling it the same way," said Neufeld, still supported by third Sabrina Neufeld (no relation) and second Laryssa Grenkow, with Breanne Meakin replacing Lindsay Eadie at lead this year. "As a team, we want to win it real bad so, we just focus on that."

Irving, too, has been through the provincials as the favourite before. As third for Adam Norget last year, his team was the top seed.

"It's a good thing knowing you're a target because you can't take any team lightly," suggested Irving, 20. "And it kind of gives you reinforcement, letting us know that we're still respected."

Irving's third, B.J. Neufeld, and lead, Marc Lacroix, are seeking their third provincial championship, both having won with Daley Peters previously.

"It would be awesome to win another one because we definitely want to get back to the nationals and give that another shot," said Neufeld, 20, said.

"But Step 1 is getting there," said Irving, also supported by second Travis Taylor.

Games will be played at 8:30 a.m., 12:15, 4 and 8 p.m. today, with the finals slated for Monday.

MIXED JOKE?: We have always been open to new ideas here, especially when it comes to thinking outside the box. In fact, we were one of maybe three media supporters in all of Canada when the Grand Slammers dared to defy the sacred CCA to get their concept out of the hack. We also supported the CCA's Continental Cup as it breathed more life into the game.

But we're still not sure about mixed doubles as a suggested entry into future Olympics.

To facilitate that possibility, the WCF recently announced that a world mixed doubles championship will be held next year. But we got a rather interesting reaction from CCA public relations guy Jeff Timson when we asked about preparations for a national mixed doubles championship.

"What are ya talking about?" he asked a week after the WCF announcement. "Ya gotta be kidding me. This is a joke!"

Timson discovered it was no joke later that day but little or nothing has been done since.

In fact, MCA executive director Ian Staniloff had yet to hear from the CCA about it yesterday and there no plans for a 2008 provincial championship -- yet.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: At the tender age of 12, it is believed that she will be the youngest to ever skip a squad in the junior women's provincial playdowns, which start in Virden tomorrow.

In fact, the average age of Shannon Birchard's entire La Salle foursome is 12.5, which may be a record for the entire curling country.

And not only did Birchard win her Target Junior Women's rural zone, she captured the Asham 8-Ender Youth Bonspiel championship as an entry out of the Pembina Curling Club last week, earning her squad the nod as the Sun's Team of the Week.

"It was our biggest win ever in curling," Birchard said after cracking a five in the sixth end en route to an 11-8 victory over Charleswood's Willie McCrae at the Rossmere Curling Club last Friday. "It feels great.

"We had a rough start and had to get it going this year and we did. We've done pretty well and winning this is pretty good."

Supported by third Heather Maxted, 13, second Meagan Grenkow, 13 and Kara Falkowski, 12, Birchard had entered the youth section of the Junior Christmas Bonspiel and saw no reason to switch to the junior women's side after qualifying for the provincials.

Birchard readily admitted that she will feel "a little bit" nervous when she faces the best the province has to offer in Virden.

COMING UP: Aside from the junior provincial championships, the Masters men's city zone playdowns started yesterday and wrap up at the Granite Curling Club on Friday ... The Masters women's city zone playdowns start today and also wrap up at the Granite on Friday ... The deadline for entry into the MCA's annual men's bonspiel is tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. Contact the MCA.

HOUSE CLEANING: Richard Daneault, second for Assiniboine Memorial's Kerry Burtnyk, threw together a makeshift squad that wound up winning the Manitoba Curling Tour's Labatt Fort Rouge Christmas Spiel. Supported by Chad Barkman, Ryan Lowdon and Russ Kihn, Daneault defeated Valour Road's Reid Carruthers 6-5 in an extra end, earning a total of $2,320. Carruthers settled for $1,700. Since the cashspiel was actually the MCT's first event of the 2007 season, Daneault and Carruthers will be one-two in the men's standings when it picks up again in September. The host club's Mark Franklin won the consolation ($400).

BITERS: Tragedy struck the curling world yet again when former U.S. junior women's world champion Katie Beck, 24, lost a battle to cancer last Saturday ... Rob Meakin has replaced Colin Grenkow as coach for St. Vital's Calleen Neufeld at the provincial championship because Grenkow is coaching La Salle's Shannon Birchard in Virden this week. Colin has one daughter (Laryssa) playing for Neufeld and another (Meagan) playing for Birchard ... This weekend's Average Joe Bonspiel that was to be held at Asham Arena has been cancelled due to lack of entries.


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