Team Managers Announcement
With a great 2023 season behind us and an even more intriguing 2024 campaign ahead, the Canadian National Pickleball League announces this year’s returning and interim managers.
Jay Devilliers – Montreal Lions
The Lions, under Devilliers, will be looking to improve on a 2023 season that saw them finish seventh in the league standings. They won 18 games and lost 40, as well as a 3-11 record in matches. They went 2-5 in the Eastern Split and 1-6 in the Western Split. The Lions, with a very athletic roster which includes Ravi Prakash, Sunny Buttar, Cam Rich, Kim Layton and Grace Thomas fought hard in the playoffs, but fell 3-0 to the West Coast Wolverines and 3-1 to the Rocky Mountain Rush and were eliminated.
Ricky Liorti – Toronto United
Liorti had to be ecstatic with United’s finish in 2023 as they surprised everyone by running the table (4-0) in the CNPL playoffs to win it all. The squad, composed of drafted players Hannah Blatt, Mark Gottfried, Matt Kawamoto, Martina Wynia and alternates Daniel Gottfried and Carolina Hack, started slowly at the Eastern Split, winning just two matches against five losses. They found their stride at the Western Split, though, going a respectable 6-1 to head into the playoffs on a big high.
Brett Forsythe – Rocky Mountain Rush
Forsythe, if you’ve seen him play, is a committed competitor, and as player-manager you know he will be looking to improve on the Rush’s relative success in 2023. The Rush, which also includes Alex Walker, Casey Rodgers, and Nathan Choi, charged out the gate at the Eastern Split, going 5-2. They fell off a bit at the Western Split, fashioning a 4-3 record heading into the playoffs. They went 2-1 in the playoffs to make the final four but lost in a hard-fought five-game match to the Prairie Pronghorns and were eliminated.
Bret Shepley – Southwestern Ontario Brewers
The Brewers are a very veteran team, with 50-year-old Susan Pound and 44-year-old Jeff Elwood playing outstanding pickleball alongside Mark Cleminson and Christina Chin. Shepley must be proud of a squad that won five and lost two at the Eastern Split. The Brewers then followed it up with a so-so 3-4 record at the Western Split. They acquitted themselves quite well in the playoffs, making a change from Susan Pound to Reese George and losing to eventual champions Toronto United, before beating a tough East Toronto Smash team 3-1. They then put in a plucky effort in their third match against the Rush, only to lose 3-2 and be eliminated from further play.
Sean McCartan – Interim Manager – Prairie Pronghorns
Being a firefighter has exposed Edmontonian Sean McCartan to life-threatening situations – especially fighting wildfires – but it also exposed him to pickleball, for which he has a growing affinity to it. He started playing the fast-growing sport in the firehall and now competes at a high level, including medaling at events in Western Canada, the U.S. and Canadian Nationals. The 50+ eligible McCartan, who has been instrumental in having pickleball to 30 firehalls in Edmonton, is also the owner of “In a Pickle”, a company that sells pickleball paddles and accessories. In addition to that, he also agreed to be a representative for DUPR/MLP in 2022.
The captain of the Londonderry Fire Department was introduced to the game while at his son’s hockey tournament in 2015, where he wandered over to an adjoining gym and saw it being played. Brian Popowitch saw that he was interested and got him to play, which piqued his interest and started him on a journey that now sees him as a dedicated player and coach. The veteran Prairie Pronghorns, who were 4-3 at both the Eastern and Western Splits and then finished third in the playoffs with a 3-2 mark, now have a dynamic leader to potentially put them over the top in 2024.
Corey Sigvaldason – Interim Manager– Northern Rollers
The Rollers, who were managed by player-manager Rob Krizmanich last year, have a new interim manager in Corey Sigvaldason. He isn’t a player, however, Sigvaldason is an executive coach, performance expert and neuro change and neurofeedback specialist, among other things. More interestingly, Sigvaldason founded the HOP Performance Institute and Neuropickleball. The Rollers should benefit, then, form his 40 years of coaching and training expertise and understanding what make athletes tick. He has supported thousands of individuals and companies, including the likes of Fortune 500 companies like Best Buy, Lenovo and Ikea.
Sigvaldason likes to use Michael Jordan’s quote, “talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships”, which should work well going forward with a Rollers team which was a combined 2-12 at the Eastern and Western Splits and a respectable 1-2 in the CNPL playoffs. Corey was a provincially ranked wrestler and nationally ranked runner earlier in life and will also bring a “grit mindset” from being a military veteran to his managing role with the Rollers. Finally, his coaching philosophy is thus – “I want to bring out the best in you so you can feel you have no regrets and are maximizing your potential. I stretch people and organizations to think WHAT IF…and then embrace the courage to be an unstoppable force to go after it!”
Lee Whitwell – Interim Manager– East Toronto Smash
The enigmatic Smash, who started out like a house on fire at the Eastern Split, going 5-2, but then went 2-5 in the Western Split and 0-2 in the playoffs, welcome a new manager in Whitwell, who may just make this very athletic squad more consistent in 2024. A Major League Pickleball veteran and two-time MVP of that circuit, she has played the game going on seven years and interestingly, said in an interview with a blogger that she was bribed into playing the game with a case of beer from a close friend. She is also a taskmaster with her own game, telling the blogger (Control the ‘T’ Sports) that she practices 80 percent of the time and plays the other 20.
The Smash, then, comprised of dynamic players Jordann Vigna, Leigh Bradwell, Dalbir Bhandal, Chris Alain and alternate Connor Weeks, may just benefit from Whitwell’s expertise, experience in the game and mindset. In terms of the latter, Control the ‘T’ Sports asked her how she prepares for competition. Whitwell, who holds a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology, answered, “I prepare mentally by doing all my on-court drilling and off court works outs. Knowing I have put in the work allows me to mentally be strong and confident on the court.” Sounds like a winning formula for the Smash.