BANFF – Medalling at provincials this season hit differently for Banff curler Anika Villemaire.
The 16-year-old third and Team Shannon won silver at the 2022 Alberta Optimist U18 Girls Provincial Championship from Jan. 12-16 in Hinton, a surreal moment that took a few days to sink in.
“It was tough coming out of the wrong side of the final, but we’re super proud and ecstatic because we didn’t even expect to qualify for provincials, let alone make it there and make it into the medals,” said Villemaire.
In their first full season together, Villemaire's passion for curling rekindled with her new team after dwindling the past few years.
Starting curling at age six at the Banff Curling Club, Villemaire found success at provincial and national levels. Being driven around the province to practices and competitions by Marty, her dad and biggest fan, Villemaire played in her first U18 provincials at age 12.
From a young age, she's been developing in the sport for bigger goals and dreams.
But with success, an unwanted weight can follow and be detrimental to the psyche of young athletes.
“There were a lot of expectations and pressure people were setting on me and it kind of took away my love for the sport a little bit because of how much pressure was on me and it was not fun anymore,” said Villemaire.
She took a step back from the sport before returning in mixed doubles. Playing for fun in lighter settings at events like the Bow Valley’s Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic against idols like 2022 Olympian Jennifer Jones, the two-person version of curling was vital for her fondness of it all to be kick-started again. Then after being approached by Kayleigh Shannon to form a new girls team, all four members instantly clicked when they met for the first time.
“We’ve been really exceeding our expectations and we all found our love for the sport again and I think that truly did come from our friendship,” said Villemaire. “It’s just really how we get along that’s making our season go so well.”
Team Shannon – consisting of Villemaire, Amy Janz, Jaelyn Macrae and skip Shannon has been a problem since forming and they smashed through the provincials round robin with a 6-1 record, earning a bye to the final.
Throughout the tournament, the team was straight up robbing teams, stealing 12 ends for a total of 19 stolen points.
“We definitely have a very high steal efficiency, we work really well with that,” said Villemaire. “Strategy is a big part, which helps us a lot and it’s not what a lot of U18s can do because it’s not easy to master and I think that what’s really helped us in provincial.”
Matched up against Team Plett in the championship game, nerves were high and palms were sweaty. After impressive tournament action, Team Shannon “broke a little” in the final, losing 8-2.
Although initially saddened by the outcome, there's a new perspective on losing at provincials.
“There was definitely some tears and emotions after the loss, but after a couple of days when we kind of regrouped ourselves and thought you’re a provincial silver medallist and you’re second in your province, I was super proud of my team and wouldn’t want to do it with any other team,” said Villemaire.
Team Shannon's next big tournament is U20 provincials from Feb. 23-26 in Cochrane.