(Original for curlmanitoba.org) Newly crowned Manitoba champion Stephanie Feeleus earned a spot in Manitoba curling history when she and her Fort Garry Team Tober teammates won the Telus Juniors Manitoba Junior Women’s Curling Championship last week in Brandon.

The 18-year old Stephanie became the first person to win a Manitoba Junior title after having earlier participated in CurlManitoba’s youth development Hit-Draw-Tap competition. At the age of 13, she finished third in her age group in the first Hit-Draw-Tap competition in 2017 at Portage.

Stephanie Feeleus – 2017 Hit-Draw-Tap Competitor (CurlManitoba Photo)

“It was very intimidating,” she recalled recently. “For a little 13 year old to be in that big arena with people watching, and the lights were so bright. But fun!!”

She calls it a positive memory. “It is the biggest thing you could compete in at that age. I think it gives kids a professional experience, it opens your eyes a little bit to what is possible,” she says.

“They emphasized the fun and there was really no pressure, not like a game. We just had to throw the three shots. I think it can inspire kids to want to do more in the sport,” she says.

Stephanie Feeleus – 2022 Provincial Champion (CurlManitoba Photo)

Do more – Stephanie Feeleus certainly has! A short five years later, she is a Manitoba champion lead – with skip Tansy Tober, 3rd Caitlin Kostna, 2nd Lexa Sigurdson, and Coach Deb Popovic.

After going to the Hit-Draw-Tap event as a member of Pembina’s Junior program, she has played with Team Tober for three years at Fort Garry. It has been a growing process for the team.

“When we started together, we were among the youngest on the Manitoba Junior Curling Tour. We got a few wins and that was good enough because it was a learning experience,” she explains.

This year, as the learning experience continued, they had what would at best be considered ‘a pretty good year’. They accumulated MJCT Rankings points in three events and were the finalist in the Stonewall event.

She is direct in responding to the hypothetical question – how would she have answered if asked in advance what the team’s expectation would have been going into the Telus Juniors?

“Everyone says they would hope to win but as a realistic objective, we would have said that we wanted to prove our seed. We were seeded #3, we would have said we wanted to justify that,” she says.

Team Tober took the longest route to the championship: a 3W-2L round-robin, a tiebreaker game win, and three playoff game wins for a 7W-2L record earned them the Manitoba Championship and the opportunity to represent Manitoba at the national New Holland Juniors later this month in Stratford, ON.

Who knows, maybe there will be a future champion on the ice at the Heather Curling Club on April 10 when 21 young curlers representing all regions of Manitoba will participate in this year’s provincial Hit-Draw-Tap finals.

Over 500 participated across the province in the qualifying rounds in the three age groups: 6-8, 9-10, and 11-13. The number was down somewhat from previous years due to the covid disruptions but is still a substantial show of interest in the competition.

Meanwhile, Team Tober is preparing to go to Stratford.

“We have been throwing a lot of rocks but I don’t think the team has the words yet to describe the feelings we have. We have just been so busy making arrangements and practicing,” Stephanie says.

The team’s “send-off” at Fort Garry CC will take place at 7PM, March 18th.

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