A year ago, a tearful Kaitlyn Lawes stood before the curling media and allowed her emotions to pour out.
The Pembina skip had just won her first Manitoba junior women's title shortly after she lost her father and biggest supporter, Keith. Lawes went on to win the Canadian crown and the bronze medal at the world championships.
The tears flowed again after Lawes edged Ste. Anne's Alyssa Vandepoele 8-5 to win her second straight junior women's provincial final at a jam-packed Granite Curling Club as she reflected on her past year.
"A lot of good things have happened, a lot of tough things have happened," said Lawes, 20. "I wish he (Keith) was with me right now and I know he would be very proud of our accomplishments. But those things happen, unfortunately, and we have to move on.
"So, I don't know, it's kind of a different feeling but I'm really happy with our performance and the team played great. It's very satisfying but it's pretty bittersweet ... Last year was very emotional with everything we went through."
Supported by third Jenna Loder, 20, and a new front end of second Laryssa Grenkow, 20, and Breanne Meakin, 18, Lawes will defend her Canadian title at this year's nationals, to be held in Salmon Arm, B.C., Jan. 31-Feb. 8.
"Yeah, I'm excited because we get those little crests on our jackets (indicating champions)," said Lawes, who hopes to get back to the world championships. "Absolutely but we'll take it one step at a time to get to our goal in our last year of juniors. That was our last year at provincials in juniors for three of us."
It was Grenkow's fourth junior provincial title, tying the Manitoba record held by Patti Wuthrich (nee Vande).
"That's actually the icing on the cake," said Grenkow, who played second for Calleen Neufeld, who lost two national finals in three trips. "It feels amazing, I'm so excited."
Meakin played lead for Neufeld the last time she was there.
"We're hungrier to finish it off and we'll keep working hard right up until the end and hopefully, that will pay off," she said.
"This is what I set my goals for this year and we've worked really hard to achieve them."
But the Lawes squad knows there will be a target on its back as the defending champ.
"There's going to be a lot of pressure but you can't look at it like that," said Loder. "It's a new team, a new year. We'll go back with an open mind and see what happens. Obviously, we're very excited and we want to win it all again."
Lawes needed to pick a Vandepoele second shot out to score three in the seventh end to take a 6-5 lead.
"That saved my own butt for when I picked my own rock out the end before," said Lawes, who then stole two in the ninth to salt away the victory.
"We're very happy," said Vandepoele, 16. "We said we wanted to get to the final and find out how to win when the time comes for us to win."
Vandepoele called the game and threw third rocks with Selena Kaatz throwing the last brick.
"We've got a lot of time left. Three of us are 16 and one is 18," said Vandepoele.