By Todd Kortemeier | Nov. 09, 2017, 12:23 p.m. (ET)
John Shuster (C) throws a stone at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 at Ice Cube Curling Center on Feb. 10, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

 

All eyes in the U.S. curling community will be on Omaha, Nebraska, this weekend as the road to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 begins in earnest on Saturday at Baxter Arena.

Three women’s teams and five men’s teams will square off at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling for the right to represent Team USA in South Korea. The women’s tournament will be a triple round robin while the men’s will be a double, each followed by a best-of-three playoff side that determines which teams go on to PyeongChang. Winners will be named on Friday Nov. 17 or Saturday Nov. 18, depending on the results.

Here’s what to watch for as the country’s top curlers take the ice:

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First-Time Olympians In The Women’s Field

While there are many familiar faces in the women’s field, whoever wins will be brand new to the Olympic audience. None of the athletes on any of the qualified teams have appeared in an Olympic Winter Games before, meaning all five team members will be making their Olympic debut.

But that’s not to say the women’s field lacks in experience.

The Jamie Sinclair rink is coming off a U.S. championship and Continental Cup title, and vice Alex Carlson and lead Monica Walker have 14 national championships appearances between them. Second Vicky Persinger is a 2013 junior national champion and also a 2018 Olympic hopeful in mixed doubles.

The top-ranked team on the women’s side in Order of Merit (OOM) rankings is Team Roth, skipped by two-time national champion Nina Roth. Team Roth competed in the 2017 world championships and placed fifth, earning the team its spot at the Olympic trials. Roth, along with vice Tabitha Peterson and second Aileen Geving, have all competed at an Olympic trials before. Lead Becca Hamilton was named USA Curling Female Athlete of the Year in 2017. After competing at the women’s worlds, Hamilton joined her brother Matt Hamilton for mixed doubles world championships.

Team Christensen is the youngest team in the field, skipped by 22-year-old four-time junior national champion Cory Christensen. Sisters Sarah and Taylor Anderson, 22, are both 2012 Youth Olympians. Lead Jenna Martin, 23, is a two-time junior national champion.

Can Anyone Unseat John Shuster?

One constant over the last three Olympic Winter Games has been John Shuster. From lead in Torino to skip in Vancouver and Sochi, Shuster is the only three-time Olympian in the field. Team Shuster won the 2017 men’s national championship and placed fourth at the world championships, which earned them their place in the trials. The team also earned bronze at the 2016 worlds for the first medal by U.S. men in nine years. Shuster and lead John Landsteiner are the only holdovers from the 2014 Olympic team. Tyler George is the vice-skip and Matt Hamilton, brother of Becca, throws second.

Second in the OOM rankings to Team Shuster is Team Brown, skipped by Craig Brown. Brown was the fifth on the Shuster rink in Sochi. Vice Jason Smith also played on Team Shuster at the 2010 Games. Second Kroy Nernberger and lead Sean Beighton are each competing at their first Olympic trials.

Team McCormick was the U.S. men’s team on the winning side of the 2017 Continental Cup. Skip Heath McCormick is competing in his second U.S. Olympic Trials after finishing third in 2013. Vice skip Chris Plys was on the 2010 Olympic team, and 2012 Youth Olympians Korey Dropkin and Tom Howell are each competing in their first trials.

Rounding out the men’s field are Team Clark and Team Birr.

Brady Clark, the 2013 USA Curling Male Athlete of the Year, leads Team Clark, which has six national championships among them.

At 49, Todd Birr is the elder statesman of the field, followed closely by his vice skip, 48-year-old John Benton. Benton was a 2010 Olympian on Team Shuster.

No Sibling Rivalries

Fans who aren’t paying close attention might think that Team Christensen has a player throwing too many rocks. But that’s just identical twins Taylor and Sarah Anderson throwing second and third. The sisters have been curling together since they were 5.

Brother and sister Matt and Becca Hamilton won’t be teammates this weekend, but they will be in December as they compete as a mixed doubles team at the Olympic trials for that brand-new discipline. The Hamiltons are the reigning U.S. mixed doubles champions.

An Unprecedented Amount Of Coverage

As part of the most hours of U.S. Olympic Team Trials coverage for an Olympic Winter Games in history, NBC Sports Network will be on the air for 31 hours of curling starting Thursday, Nov. 16, which includes U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Mixed Doubles Curling in December. Beyond that, NBCsports.com and the NBC Sports App will provide more than 30 hours of streaming coverage of opening round action from Nov. 11-15. Click here for a full live stream and broadcast schedule.

Curling Eyes On Omaha

The trials cap a busy run of curling action at Baxter Arena, as the 8,000-seat arena also hosted NBC’s “Curling Night in America” in late August. The first match from the tournament aired in October, and episodes continue through December.

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.