BLAINE, Minn. -- It was fitting that in the first end of the semifinals at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Mixed Doubles Curling, the Page 1-2 match between Cory Christensen and John Shuster vs. Becca Hamilton and Matt Hamilton had to go to a measurement.
After all, this was a night that featured five athletes already qualified in traditional men’s/women’s curling for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, so it was logical to expect two tightly-contested, highly-skilled matchups.
That certainly was the case in the aforementioned Page 1-2 game, a back-and-forth affair from the get-go in which only single points were scored until the final end, resulting in a 6-3 win for Hamilton-Hamilton. Over on the other sheet, the team of Vicky Persinger and Jared Zezel held leads of 4-1 and 7-2 en route to an 8-4 win over Nina Roth and Kroy Nernberger.
The Hamilton siblings advance directly into Sunday’s final – an impressive comeback after they started the tournament 0-2, while Christensen and Shuster get new life tomorrow as they take on Persinger-Zezel to determine the other spot in the final. Only Roth-Nernberger’s tournament is at an end.
Points were at a premium in the Page 1-2 game, as each team could only muster a single in the first seven ends. Becca Hamilton nailed a key takeout in the fifth end, preserving the chance to get one and take a 3-2 lead.
“She made a great one and we were fortunate enough to get a miss out of Cory,” Matt Hamilton said.
Shuster had a chance at a takeout with the second-to-last rock in the final end, looking to at least tie with hammer and force a tiebreaker end. But the shot took too slight of a glance off another rock and ended up putting the Hamiltons in position to score two.
“I let it go and I was like, ‘Please don’t curl,’ and it curled,” Shuster said. “What was going through my mind was I wish I had Matt Hamilton sweeping this one.”
Shuster and Matt Hamilton were enemies on this night, but will be teammates on the U.S. men’s team at the Winter Games. Same goes for Christensen and Becca Hamilton.
“I love playing with John,” Matt Hamilton said. “He’s a great sport, he’s a good winner, he’s a good loser, and he’s just a good friend of mine. I know there’s no hard feelings there and he’s going to go out and battle tomorrow and hopefully I’ll see him in the final.”
Shuster wasn’t surprised to hear that his friend loves playing against him, but maybe for a different reason.
“Of course he does, he’s had my number, I guess it’s three in a row he’s beaten me,” Shuster joked. “Let’s see if we can beat him when it really matters tomorrow.”
It’s a short turnaround from Saturday night’s late game, as Christensen-Shuster will take on Persinger-Zezel at 10 a.m. local time.
Roth and Nernberger were able to respond twice to three-point ends, but it wasn’t enough as they fell 8-4. Both players seemed to struggle with weight at times and couldn’t put big ends together to stage a comeback. Roth will still be headed to PyeongChang as skip of the U.S. women’s team.
An impressive 2017 continues for Hamilton-Hamilton, as the reigning mixed doubles national champions will look to be the first U.S. team in the discipline’s Olympic debut. But they know that while Saturday night’s win was huge, they’re not going to get to enjoy it for long.
“(We’ll enjoy it for the) rest of the night, go to bed, and refocus in the morning,” Matt Hamilton said. “We’re not a team to dwell on wins or losses, so we’ll enjoy it for now and get back to work tomorrow.”