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Qualifying Team USA For Sochi (5/6/13)

BY JESSICA SCHULTZ

 
Erika Brown throwing with the sweepers
Waiting to march at Opening Ceremony
 
Cab ride to practice at the Kerlinga Halle
Watching a rock
Team USA
Ann and I hanging out with our sixth player

We did it! We won!

But this is just the beginning…

After placing sixth at nationals in 2012, we knew we had to step it up if we had any chance of making it to the Olympic Trials. This season we added more training, practice weekends as a team and competitions to be able to compete at the level we know we are capable of. We openly dissected our weakness as a team and found ways to turn them into strengths.

Our busy travel schedule paid off and we won the 2013 National Championships in Green Bay, Wis.! The championship final was a close game that came down to the last rock in an extra end (overtime). The winner automatically qualified for the Olympic Trials in November and goes on to represent the U.S. at the World Championship in Riga, Latvia. The loser awaits a phone call from the USCA hoping for a chance to get the last spot into the Olympic Trials. The final spot is hand-picked by a board of directors; they can pick individual players to form a team or pick a whole team to fill the last spot. Obviously we were ecstatic with the win.

Riga, Latvia and Fargo, N.D. here we come.

Pressure

Going into the World Championship we were pretty confident in our ability to compete at this level. We had recent successes on the World Tour this season, winning three events and placing third in Switzerland, not to mention all of our past history of playing internationally. However, there is always added pressure and excitement to go along with the World Championships.

Our little team of five grew to 10 within 24 hours of winning the National Championship. We picked an alternate, Sarah Anderson, and added more coaches and support staff. We also had unlimited amounts of resources in the crowd, with family members, media and statisticians at our fingertips. In about a week’s time, we all had to learn how to work with each other as a unit, while feeling out what worked for the team to help us perform at our best.

The added media at a world event can be daunting. Camera crews walking up and down the sheets, the clicking of camera shutters while you are delivering, and Terry Kolesar (the director of communications for USA Curling) waiting for a comment after the game, win or lose. I am thankful I can often bypass this area and let Deb or E handle the dirty work. Sometimes, when you are on the ice, it feels like you can’t do anything unnoticed and missing a shot becomes amplified.

We had a lot of positive support from family and friends back home. Holy cow did our Facebook page grow. It was fun to read the posts and watch the number of likes go up. This can also add a bit of pressure because we don’t want to let any of them down; however, we used everyone’s positive energy to focus on the task at hand.

Don’t let me forget to mention that the United States’ berth to the Olympics for curling was riding on this event. We had to place better than sixth, ahead of China, Denmark and Germany, to solidify the spot for the women’s field. As if trying to win the event wasn’t pressure enough!

Leading into the event we were practicing almost every day, working out, all while trying to maintain a regular job and family life. We had one team practice weekend leading into the event in Blaine, Minn. (thank you Four Season’s Curling Club) – this was the first time on the ice with our alternate Sarah, and our only practice together as a team before heading overseas to Riga.

Live Riga

Our travels went fairly smooth, aside from a snowstorm scare in Frankfurt and some interesting cab rides (one in which Deb was temporarily “kidnapped” on the way to a practice session due to miscommunications). Everything else seemed to be aligning for a good week. We had productive practices at the KerlingHalle- 2 sheet club in Riga. No one was swept to sea while skating along the Baltic. There were “Live Riga” signs everywhere in Old Town Riga, which left a lasting impression that this trip would be memorable. Our sixth player hung out in central Old Town, forever stuck as a statue. “The Dragon” may never fully understand his place on our team. They even sold tiger hats at the local market, completing the tiger theme that took center stage at this year's nationals.

Starting out at worlds you are guaranteed 11 games; two games a day, sometimes with a night draw, followed by back-to-back draws starting the next morning (draws = games in curling lingo). For each game we are on the ice for about three hours, give or take. The World Championship is often compared to a marathon. It’s important that if you fall behind in the standings early that you keep your head up and play hard to get some “W’s.”

We are a team that takes full advantage of that marathon. Falling to a 1-2 seeding after day two, we knew the rest of the week was going to be a battle. We still had some of our biggest games ahead of us. We bounced back, finishing day three with two big wins. We beat Canada in our second game that day, helping our momentum swing and building the team’s confidence in the right direction.

Side note – secretly I had a few bad in-turn throws the day before which sent my mind into overdrive. Overthinking a shot instead of letting it go and moving on to the next one can be detrimental, especially when shots should be coming automatically at this point in the season. I started to over think every mid-weight in-turn throw to the point where I was scared to throw an in-turn, afraid of what the outcome might be. Why was this happening? I have never had an issue like this with my in-turns (counter clockwise rotation). I was very frustrated with myself, and felt I was letting my team down. Thankfully I have some awesome teammates who had my back, bailing us out of trouble when needed.

Battle we did, the rest of the week; moving up and down in the standings maintaining our middle of the pack status. Going into the last day of round robin we still had a chance to make it into the semifinals, or at least a tiebreaker, depending on how other teams finished, and if we won at least one of the next two games. It was a big game day, playing Scotland who was ranked No. 1, and Russia who was ranked fifth, I believe. We lost a tough one to Scotland but rallied to beat Russia in an extra end. This put us into a three-way tie for fourth place, with Russia and Switzerland. Meaning there would be two tiebreaker games before the page playoffs began the following evening.

One team would get a bye into the second tiebreaker game based on their results of the last shot draw (LSD). The LSD is determined before every game in the round robin. Each team draws to the button (middle of the circles) to see who gets hammer (last shot advantage) for the first end of that game. The officials measure the LSD and the results are recorded and accumulated over the week. We had a good accumulated number for our LSDs, which earned us the bye into the second tiebreaker game. The winner of Russia and Switzerland advances to play us, and the loser is out. Switzerland won. We played a good game against the Swiss to give us the fourth spot into the playoffs. Not only that but it solidified the United States’ berth into the Olympics in 2014!! What a relief!

With little time to celebrate the good news, we immediately started to prepare for our next game against Canada. In a page playoff system the top two teams play each other, winner advances to the finals, loser awaits to play the winner of the 3-4 game (U.S. and Canada). Loser of the 3-4 game awaits to play the loser of the 2-3 game for the bronze medal. The winner of the 2-3 game goes on to play in the final. Following?

We knew playing Canada in the 3-4 game would be tough, but my goodness, when Team Homan gets on a roll as a unit, and your team falls behind even by a point, there is no stopping them. It was difficult to get a steal lined up due to their lead’s ticks and second’s perfectly placed hit and rolls. Needless to say we lost that game feeling a little bruised and battered.

Canada continued to the 2-3 game to play Scotland and try their hand at getting into the final, while we dropped to the bronze medal game. Awaiting to see who our opponent would be, we tried not to dwell on the loss and disappointment of not getting into that game. We looked at the positives – we still have a chance at a world medal and we secured the Olympic berth. :)

Losing still stinks.

Scotland beat Canada in the 2-3 game. Scotland advances to the final to play Sweden (Sweden beat Scotland in the 1-2 game). Now they play for gold and silver, which means we get another shot at Canada for the bronze.

We were excited to play them again, and may have done a little happy dance. We knew we could beat them; we did it earlier in the week. We just had to show up, with a goal to get Homan into a draw game. We played a better game than the last time we played them, average 88 percent as a team. After getting two in the second end, I remember feeling that we definitely could win this game. They even played “Eye of the Tiger” between ends (during commercial breaks they usually play music), then Homan makes a good shot to get three in the third end (I’m beginning to think the tiger is not a good omen…). Here we are battling from behind again. We had difficulty capitalizing on their misses and struggled with generating points. We lost. No medal to bring home… this time.

Bring it home

Riga definitely leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth. We had our chances and we weren’t able to capitalize on them. The feeling that we could have done better is the fuel we will use heading into our summer training.

We finished the season on a high note. Placing fourth at worlds is not easy and qualifying for the trials brings us one step closer to our ultimate goal. We qualified the U.S. for the Olympic berth and placed higher than any U.S. team in the last six years.

The week, this season, every win and every loss is something we will learn from. We are now venturing into our “off-season” and training for the trials is already in full swing. 

The schedule is set and I look forward to our next meeting. 


Team USA -- Erika Brown, Debbie McCormick, Jessica Schultz, Ann Swisshelm, Sarah Anderson