(FARGO, N.D.) - Olympians Erika Brown (Oakville, Ontario) and John Shuster (Duluth, Minn.) took one giant step closer to clinching the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling after posting opening wins in the best of three playoff competition to determine Team USA for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
"I was so comfortable coming in here and I got here and I noticed the heart rate just a little bit higher so I got some searching to figure out how to fix that," Shuster said. "The intensity is just insane here. We do the sport for the love of the game and we have been trying to represent our countries at the highest level, so it's sometimes just gets me a little bit more because I am so passionate about it."
Brown and teammates Debbie McCormick (Rio, Wis.), Jessica Schultz (Minneapolis, Minn.), and Ann Swisshelm (Chicago) defeated the Allison Pottinger rink, 7-5.
"We got off to a great start. We got the hammer in the first end and we were able to generate a deuce ahead of a tricky shot for three, but got two out of it, so that was a great way to start the game. Seventh end, had a shot for a big end and made that one," Brown said.
In the men's first playoff game, Shuster's team held off a late rally by Pete Fenson (Bemidji, Minn.) with a last-rock 9-8 victory.
"That's the key, stay in the game as long as we can, make as many shots as we can despite the score. The score dictates what we are going to do, but mentally it's important to just hang in there and our guys did a good job," Fenson said. "I mean, the comeback was big ... some momentum at the end of the game. We didn't start real good, but we ended good. So we are going to bring that in tomorrow, and hopefully, use it to our advantage."
Shuster and teammates Jeff Isaacson (Gilbert, Minn.), Jared Zezel (Duluth, Minn.), and John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.) made a tap for two points to get on the scoreboard first. In the second end, Shuster drew his final stone through a skinny port at the top of the house to place two stones in scoring position. Fenson and teammates Shawn Rojeski (Chisholm, Minn.), Joe Polo (Duluth, Minn.), and Ryan Brunt (Portage, Wis.) followed up with a runback double takeout for two points to tie the game.
The teams exchanged singles over the next two ends. The game's momentum swung in the sixth end when Team Shuster had four stones in the four-foot with one lone Fenson stone ripe for picking as Shuster removed it with a precise angled takeout for four points.
Team Shuster then stole a point in the following end to go up five points when Fenson missed his final shot. Fenson's team got a break in the eighth end when Shuster missed a runback with his first stone and Fenson had an open draw for two points. Team Fenson then stole two points in the ninth end when Shuster's final stone was heavy and didn't curl, rubbing on a stone above the rings.
In the 10th end, Fenson buried his final stone in the eight foot behind a corner guard. Shuster was heavy with the last rock and the Fenson rink stole one more point to force overtime. Shuster was able to redeem himself in the 11th with a takeout of a Fenson rock positioned behind a guard in the four-foot for the win.
"We played the ninth end pretty good, we had a double peel attempt early that could have opened it up then we got one in there so we just keep peeling and they got one kind of in the second [position]," Shuster said about the final ends. "We put just a tiny bit more broom than Pete did because he was trying to over curl the center line. It was like basically on the center of that corner with how much this ice swings ... we never expected it to be in play, but it was actually good too. And then can we draw the four foot to get the win, and that's something that we have made all week."
In the women's game, Brown and teammates Debbie McCormick (Rio, Wis.), Jessica Schultz (Minneapolis, Minn.), and Ann Swisshelm (Chicago) made a hit for two points to start the game. Pottinger (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and teammates Nicole Joraanstad (Verona, Wis.), Natalie Nicholson (Bemidji, Minn.), and Tabitha Peterson (Eagan, Minn.) were forced to draw for a single in the second end.
After holding Team Brown to a single in the third, the Pottinger rink was forced to draw for one against two Brown stones splitting the house. The momentum continued in Brown's favor from thereon as they took control of the match in the seventh end. Pottinger's final stone was heavy and didn't get the curl she needed to make the proper tap to get her stone in better position. Brown then removed both Pottinger rocks and scored three points to take a 6-2 advantage.
In the eighth end, Brown failed to remove the lone Pottinger stone with her last rock, giving Pottinger a draw for two. Team Brown put a single point on the board in the ninth end and ran Pottinger out of stones in the 10th to clinch the victory.
"I think we need to come out and play it one end at a time, and we really have to take a certain point in time and realize when are these rocks and angles not setting up for us. That is what we are not doing this week and we just have to do a better job tomorrow. We have nothing to lose, right? Come on out tomorrow and just play all," Pottinger said about tomorrow's second playoff matchup."
The second men's playoff game will take place at 2:30 p.m. Saturday followed by the second women's game at 7 p.m. If needed, the final men's game will be played at 11 a.m. Sunday with the women's competition potentially concluding at 2 p.m. "We have been waiting for this for a long time. Everyone really played great today and I am proud of them," Brown said.
The women's berth for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games has been secured, whereas the men's berth will need to be earned in December at the final Olympic Qualification Event, Dec. 10-15, in Füssen, Germany. The winner of the men's side of the Olympic Trials will represent the U.S. at the Olympic qualifier.
Winning teams will be nominated to the U.S. Olympic Team pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee.
*Erika Brown 201 000 301 0 - 7
Allison Pottinger 010 010 020 1 - 5
*last rock in first end
Erika Brown, 95%
Debbie McCormick, 83%
Jessica Schultz, 89%
Ann Swisshelm, 89%
Allison Pottinger, 77%
Nicole Joraanstad, 76%
Natalie Nicholson, 91%
Tabitha Peterson, 90%
*John Shuster 200 104 100 01 - 9
Pete Fenson 020 010 022 10 - 8
*last rock in first end
John Shuster, 81%
Jeff Isaacson, 87%
Jared Zezel, 91%
John Landsteiner, 86%
Pete Fenson, 82%
Shawn Rojeski, 82%
Joe Polo, 89%
Ryan Brunt, 94%
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