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Winta Desta: Hitting baskets and high marks

St. Patrick's student an athletic and academic winner
By Martin Cleary, The Ottawa Citizen

Winta Desta, a Grade 12 student-athlete at St. Patrick's High School, is over the moon about winning the $30,000 Presidential Scholarship at Lakehead University.
Photograph by: Jean Levac, The Ottawa Citizen

Winta Desta is feeling much lighter these days … not to mention over-the-moon happy.

By winning the top $30,000, four-year entrance scholarship at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., the Grade 12 St. Patrick's High School student-athlete will be pursuing her post-secondary education and athletic career at an out-of-town university.

It was a great sense of relief for the Fighting Irish three-sport athlete.

It also meant a great deal to her single mother, Azieb Retta, who balances jobs as an independent home-care provider for the elderly and newspaper delivery person for the Citizen along with the busy lives of her three school-aged children (two daughters and one son).

"If I didn't get the scholarship, I would not be going to Lakehead University because of the expense," says Desta, who is strong academically as well as going to the basketball hoop as a forward-centre.

"I feel very, very good about this scholarship. It takes a big weight off my shoulders and the same for my mother."

Desta was one of two high school seniors to win the Presidential Scholarship, the most prestigious academic award offered by Lakehead. It's worth $7,500 a year, and will cover her tuition and books.

She earned the national entrance scholarship because of her academic marks at St. Patrick's, leadership, community service, letters of support as well as a written essay and an interview. Her mid-term average at St. Patrick's was 91 per cent.

"Now, I only have to focus on the other half of the deal (residence and food)," she adds.

"I'll work this summer and I'll try to do what I can."

For the past six years, Retta has lived without her husband, Goitom — and Winta, 17, Selam, 14, and Simon, 11, have been without their father, who died of a heart attack at age 45.

"I don't want her to go away," says Retta, echoing the feeling of many parents whose children decide to travel to university.

"But it's very exciting. We have a very tight income and she has worked so hard. It's so rewarding for her. It's a very big help for me."

Desta was so aware that her marks would determine whether she could afford to attend a university outside Ottawa that she reduced her sports schedule in 2009-10 by not playing community basketball with the Kanata Cavalier or Ottawa Celtics. She limited her participation in sports at St. Patrick's to basketball, volleyball and touch football.

"My marks dropped a bit last year as I was piling on too much," she says. "I regret it a bit."

Desta, who is half an inch shy of six feet, started playing basketball in Grade 7 at St. Patrick's immediate school and her talent also led her to the Celtics.

In her three years with the Celtics, she experienced the provincial championships twice, playing in Division 4 in 2006 before the top-ranked Division 1 in 2007.

At the 2009 juvenile provincials, she was part of the Kanata Cavaliers team that was ranked sixth in Division 1. But they were 1-2 in round-robin play and missed the playoff round for the medals.

"I love the competition and aggressiveness (of basketball)," Desta says.

"A lot of people think it's not a tough sport, but it is. You must be focused and mentally tough."

Besides being strong academically, Lakehead Timberwolves women's basketball coach Jon Kreiner recruited her to join his growing program.

"I could be red-shirted my first year because Lakehead had a big recruiting class and a transfer player from an (NCAA) Division 1 school. I'm at the bottom of the list."

But she's at the top of another list, when it comes to earning a major entrance scholarship.

Winners' circle

Ottawa's John Conway, playing for the fifth-place Toronto Golden Jets, was named to the tournament all-star team at the Canadian senior men's water polo championship in Montreal. Toronto defeated Gatineau Internationals 3-2 for fifth. … Ottawa's Marie Albert, who competes for Montreal Synchro, has been named as one of 25 athletes for the 2010 Canadian 13-15-year-old synchronized swimming camp today and Monday in Montreal. … Gatineau's Caroline Larcher-Landry, who represents Montreal Synchro, won the Tier 6 figures at the Canadian Espoir synchronized swimming championships in Montreal. … In a field of more than 22,000 runners, Marc-André Charette of Gatineau cracked the Top 1,000, finishing the 89-kilometre Comrades ultramarathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, South Africa, in 984th place. His time of seven hours 55 minutes 44 seconds also put him 232nd in his 40-49 age class.

More winners

Calgary-based Seanna Mitchell of Manotick finished third in the women's 100-metre freestyle race in 56.83 at the Mel Zajac Jr., international swimming meet in Vancouver. … Jamie Bissett of the host Nepean Ottawa Diving Club captured six medals at the Ontario diving championships. He won gold in the boys' A and open one- and three-metre springboard competitions and was second in his age group (16-18) in the 10-metre platform and third in open 10-metre. The other NODC medallists were: Henry McKay, boys' silver in B platform and three-metre, and bronze in one metre; Dawn Turner, silver in girls' B three-metre; and Bruno Pelletier, bronze in boys' B platform. … Karen Jewell of Gatineau will compete in the 5,000-metre and 10,000-metre races at the world open-water team swimming trials this weekend in Long Beach, California. … Michel Berube of Gatineau will be one of nine coaches representing Canada at the International Paralympic Committee swimming world championships Aug. 15-21 in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

And even more

At a recent field hockey tournament for middle schools (Grades 7-8), the four teams from Longfields-Davidson Heights dominated the boys' and girls' competition. In the boys' final, the L-DH white team shut out the L-DH purple squad 1-0, while the girls' final was a 1-1 deadlock between the L-DH white and L-DH purple teams. Five girls' and four boys' teams entered the tournament. While girls' field hockey is played at the high school level, it doesn't exist as a boys' sport at the interscholastic level. Here's another sign of growth of field hockey in Ottawa. The Nepean Night-hawks will appear for the first time in a sanctioned Ontario tournament with boys' under-14 and girls' under-18 teams competing in the May Meltdown tournament this weekend in Mississauga.

Reach Martin Cleary

at 613-596-3748 or mcleary@thecitizen.canwest.com
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen


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