A St. Albert skipper will steer the ship for the Alberta women’s curling team at the Canada Winter Games.
Calling the shots is Julia Bakos for the U18 lineup of Quinn Prodaniuk, Alyssa Nedohin and Julianna MacKenzie during the Feb. 15 to March 3 Games in Red Deer.
“We’re really excited to represent Alberta and have that flag on our backs,” Bakos said. “We know that if we are the most prepared and we work hard enough, we’ll be able to succeed and get as far as we can.
“We’ll play each game like we would normally and we’ll see what happens.”
The Crestwood-based rink, coached by Glenna Rubin, finished 4-1 at the four-team Alberta Trials in November at Red Deer and the third win against Zoe Cinnamon of Cochrane was decided in the last end with skip rocks as Bakos pulled off a 15-foot runback to secure the 4-3 decision.
“It was hard but I had actually nosed a peel in that exact same spot,” Bakos said. “I was definitely nervous, but I was confident also because I just played that exact same shot so I knew what ice, I knew what weight and I hit the stick with my throw and we made it.”
Tears were shed during the emotional post-game celebration.
“Our brooms went up in the air and we all ran to each other and just hugged. It was such a good feeling,” Bakos said.
The winners also held the upper hand against Cinnamon in the round robin at 7-4 and the Page 1-2 playoff at 9-2 before stealing singles in five and six of the final to make it 4-2.
“There were a couple games that were really tight, but we definitely played really well the whole weekend. We read the ice really well and we got our weight down really quickly and our communication was just perfect,” Bakos said.
The reality of the accomplishment hit home during last weekend’s staging event in Red Deer for the 250 athletes, representing 46 Alberta communities, competing in 19 sports with the support of 72 coaches and managers and 19 mission staff at the Games.
“It definitely took a while for it to sink in,” Bakos said. “We have been preparing for almost a year now and knowing that the Games are almost here it’s extremely exciting.”
Bakos described the journey as “very up and down” to the Games as the C1 qualifiers at the 16-team pre-Alberta Trials in the spring with only a team of three.
Two losses in a row, including a 6-5 setback to Cinnamon, was followed by four straight victories that included the 7-6 outcome against Haley O’Connor of Red Deer (Bakos counted the winning point in eight after giving up a steal of three in seven) in the C semifinals and the 5-4 final in an extra end over Claire Booth of Red Deer (Bakos battled back from a 4-1 deficit by counting one with the hammer in six before stealing singles in the next three ends).
Erin Tester, a front-end curler for the team at the pre-Alberta Trials, was unavailable for the November qualifier because of university commitments in Ontario, so Nedohin, 13, of Sherwood Park and MacKenzie, 17, of Cochrane were brought on board to join Prodaniuk, 18, of Fort Saskatchewan and Bakos.
“Teams were already made up for the next season so trying to find players that currently didn’t have a team was very difficult,” Bakos said.
As for the preparation process, “Julianna drove in every weekend and we practiced,” said Bakos of her former teammate two years ago. “We feel practice weekends would be a lot more valuable than playing in bonspiels so it was all about touching up on our skills.
“We also make sure to practice how we play.”
Heavy emphasis is also placed on team dynamics.
“That is the most important thing for an entire team so communication is our number one thing,” said Bakos, who revealed one of the pre-game rituals for the foursome was rocking out to “Cardi B every time, the same three songs.”
The youngest skip at the Alberta Trials at age 15 is also adapting to the spotlight as the team’s quarterback.
“Being a skip with a winning team comes with a lot of attention so there is a lot of people that are waiting for you like when we lost the Red Deer bonspiel (in early January). We lost out pretty early and it was kind of a shocker to everyone because we just won a bonspiel there, the Canada Games Trials,” said Bakos of her U18 provincial playdown rink of Prodaniuk, MacKenzie and Kim Bonneau, 18, of Rocky Mountain House (Nedohin is curling with a different U18 playdown team) that split four games and the second loss in a row was in the quarter-finals to Booth 7-5.
The third bonspiel of the season for the U18 squad, and the last before the Alberta Trials, was the 5-0 showing in Banff in late October and the first competition after the Trials was at the Crestwood, Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, which doubled as a U18 provincial qualifier. The team’s 5-2 record featured losses in the first and last games, including the 5-0 skunking in the six-end final as St. Albert skip Rebecca Molberg stole singles in four of the last five ends.
“We know a lot of people are out to beat us for sure,” said Bakos, a mixed doubles competitor with Owen Pacholok of St. Albert at the 2018 Alberta Winter Games.
The next U18 provincial qualifier, the Feb. 7 to 10 northerns at the St. Albert Curling Club for a berth at the March 14 to 17 championship in Medicine Hat, is also be the last tune-up before the Games.
“We’ll treat it like a regular bonspiel,” said Bakos, who has U18 provincial experience skipping a U15 rink out of the Saville Centre consisting of Brienne Lirette, Rachel Jacques and MacKenzie Deagnon as the B qualifiers at northerns finished fourth at the 2018 championship.
The Grade 10 student/athlete at Vimy Ridge Academy is consumed by curling.
“At the academy it’s curling every day on the ice or in the gym or strategic sessions in the classroom,” said Bakos, in addition to weekend practices or bonspiels with her competitive rinks. “I love it.”