Jada Zimmerman

Jada Zimmerman

Ballenas Whalers seek return to provincials

Games will be played Saturday at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

As a tune-up for this weekend’s Vancouver Island secondary school curling playdowns, the Ballenas Secondary School girls team entered the annual Parksville Women’s Open bonspiel last week.

After the team’s final practice before the bonspiel, coach Brian Onushko gathered the players for a short meeting.

“There’s no pressure,” Onushko said of the women’s bonspiel. “You’re just there to get practice and have some fun.”

But that’s not how team lead Teya Vega saw it.

“I want to win the spiel,” Vega said.

The Whalers did not win, but the Ballenas rink will have another chance — with a provincial championships berth on the line — when the Island play downs are contested Saturday and Sunday at Qualicum & District Curling Club.

Games will be played Saturday at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The five-team boys tournament, which includes entries from both Ballenas and host Kwalikum secondary schools, will be played in a round-robin format, with each team drawing one bye.

Kwalikum does not have an entry in the girls’ tourney, which will be played as a four-team, double-elimination. The final will be played at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, with an “if necessary” rematch to follow at 1 p.m. if neither participant has two losses.

Winners advance to the March 2-5 provincial secondary school championships in Smithers, and the Ballenas girls are bidding for a third straight appearance with a team that boasts four players with provincial experience.

“When you go to provincials, they’re crazy good,” said Vega, a Grade 10 who plays lead for the Whalers. “My first year there, when I was a (Grade 8) spare, I got thrown in because a girl got sick. It was definitely a shock.”

The Ballenas girls are skipped by Jada Zimmerman, who along with alternate Lauren Onushko are the only Grade 12 players on the team. Third Amanda Litton is another Grade 10, while second Michaela Morrill is a Grade 8 bidding for her first provincial trip.

All of the girls got their start in the sport through the Parksville junior curling program run on Monday afternoons by Cheryl Noble. Litton said she was intrigued by curling when she watched the Canadian teams compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“I got interested, and my parents found the junior program here at the club and signed me up,” Litton said. “I absolutely loved it, from day one.”

Conversely, Zimmerman had a much different reaction to televised curling. She was convinced to try the game by her cousin, Vega, who in turn had been coaxed to the club by Ballenas classmate Libby Elliott.

“I didn’t really see it as something I’d like,” said Zimmerman. “I watched it on TV and didn’t think it would be a fun sport. Usually I liked to do something more active.”

Now, though, Zimmerman and the others are hooked. Even Elliott, who got the ball rolling for Vega and Zimmerman, remains active in the sport.

While not on the school curling team because she plays for the Whalers’ junior basketball team, Elliott recently teamed with Morrill and Lauren Onushko to qualify for the inaugural B.C. U-18 championships by winning the girls play down in Nanaimo.

Junior players interested in trying the sport may sign up for Monday’s 3:30 p.m. sessions at Parksville Curling Club. For info, email Cheryl Noble at cnoble@parksvillecurling.com.

This weekend’s secondary school playdowns at Qualicum & District Curling Club are open to the public at no cost.

Parksville Curling Club

See Tuesday’s paper for a story on the annual Parksville Curling Club Women’s Open bonspiel

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