WESTLOCK – Westlock’s Vance and Wendi Nakonechny are provincial pickleball champions.
The husband and wife team won a gold medal at 3.5 level in the 50-55 age category at the 2023 Pickleball Alberta Provincial Championships Aug.10-13 in Red Deer. The championship comes just two years after the couple began playing the sport with the Westlock Pickleball Society and is their first provincial title.
“It’s always nice to win any kind of competition. It was a great day, we won all our matches and we played really well together,” said Vance.
Those victories came when the duo won two of three sets in round robin play,
which included wins in Round 1 versus a team from Red Deer by scores of 11-5 and 11-4, Round 2 that saw them win in three sets against another team from Red Deer 11-8, 4-11, and 11-7, and in Round 3 against a Calgary team 11-9 and 11-3.
“Winning all three rounds put us in the final against a Calgary team where we won (in two sets) 11-6 and 11-5,” said Vance. “We won the first match fairly easily. In the second match we won the third set and then in the semifinals we won two straight.”
Wendi noted their ability to stay focused on the pickleball court, amid some strong play and tough competition.
“We really kept our cool and played calmly and I think that really contributed to our success,” she said noting 538 participants competed at provincials.
Winning a gold medal is tough enough with the skill and teamwork required, noted Vance, adding they were tested in their second match when rain and strong winds made things challenging.
“It definitely affected us. We actually had a rain delay halfway through our second match and the rain was almost coming in sideways so they had to postpone for about 20 minutes,” he said.
In addition to being crowned mixed doubles champions, Wendi also won a bronze medal with her partner, Jeanine Au from St Albert, in the 4.0 level women’s doubles in the 50-59 age category.
Wendi and Au lost their first match to a team from Calgary with a score of 3-11, 11-1, 2-11. That put them in the single, one-game elimination bracket.
They defeated a team from St Albert 15-7, then beat a team from Cold Lake 15-9, before moving on to beat a team from Spruce Grove 15-13. Following that, they defeated a team from Calgary 15-4.
The wins placed them in the second-versus-third game with a chance to go to the finals, but ultimately they lost to a Calgary team 15-3 to finish third.
“It was very exciting for me to win that bronze medal with my partner from St. Albert because it was at a higher (level),” said Wendi. “We were playing against some very, very powerful, strong teams from all over Alberta. We were expected to make a good run but we weren’t expecting to medal so we were definitely surprised by our hard work and determination to get that medal.”
The couple have found support in both the Westlock Pickleball Society and a St. Albert pickleball league, where they play and have really enjoyed learning the sport. Vance credits fellow pickleballer and coach, Rick Sereda who has helped them develop their skill over the past two years.
“I think the nice thing about pickleball is that really anybody can play. It can be a social game but it can also be highly competitive and it’s a great way to meet people,” said Vance. “The Westlock pickleball group is very supportive, very friendly and takes joy in everybody’s success. Thanks to all of those people for making it such a great environment to play a sport.”