In the world of American curling, Team Jamie Sinclair and Team Nina Roth are far from strangers.
The two faced off in the final of the 2017 national championships, with Sinclair’s squad earning the victory to take the title, though Team Roth represented the U.S. at the women's world championship due to previous achievements. There were three more head-to-head matchups at the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling in Omaha, Nebraska as the teams sought to qualify for the playoffs. Again, Team Sinclair held the edge, earning two victories to Team Roth’s one.
These evenly-matched foes both advanced into the playoffs, and in the first match of the best-of-three series – perhaps their most important duel thus far – Team Roth came out on top, 7-5, in 11 ends.
“It feels great,” said skip Nina Roth. “We’re still going to have to battle the next two games. We know that. They’re a really strong team so we’re going to have to bring our best.”
After nine ends of curling, Team Roth led 5-4, but Team Sinclair looked to be firmly in the driver’s seat in the 10th with two stones in the center of the house. Roth, as the skip of her team, had the final shot of the end. As it came to a stop, also in the center of the house, it looked to be just short of second position, which would leave Team Roth on the losing end. But after a tense few minutes of review, it was determined that her stone was in fact in second position and still very much in play.
That stone changed everything.
“Before I threw it I wasn’t even sure if it would curl enough to get second shot, and the fact that it did and my team was able to kind of curve it in there a little bit and just hit it perfect was just really great,” Roth said.
Sinclair’s final stone couldn’t knock that one out of play and she only scored one point, knotting the score at five and sending the match into an extra end.
As is par for the course with two teams so familiar with each other, the 11th end came down to the final stones. Sinclair misplaced a guard stone, leaving Roth an opening that she would capitalize on. She scored two to finally ice the game and take the win, putting Team Roth up 1-0.
“My team came out there really loose,” Roth said. “We just decided today that we were going to have fun. No matter what, we’re going to enjoy this experience. We’ve worked so hard to get here that now we just want to enjoy it.”
Team Sinclair jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first end. Roth blanked the next two ends to retain the hammer, which is the all-important final stone. The fourth end saw a more cluttered house and with it came Roth’s opportunity to strike, taking two points and the lead.
In the fifth end, Team Sinclair scored two to take a 3-2 lead. Roth blanked again in the sixth end, and her second-to-last stone of the seventh end had too much on it, rolling out of the house and costing an opportunity to score another two points. But she rebounded for her final shot and salvaged a point in the end, tying the score at three apiece.
Sinclair scored another in the eighth end to take a 4-3 lead, but Roth took the lead right back in the ninth, scoring two after a Sinclair miss, to go up 5-4.
“That’s the toughest part,” Sinclair said. “We had a shot to basically secure the two and it just went a little bit too deep. I gave them an out and she made it, so that’s what sticks out.”
With the U.S. Olympic Team Trials series between the two teams now knotted 2-2, both are entirely aware of how evenly matched they are and what awaits them.
“You definitely want to go out there and forget who you’re playing and just play the rocks. That’s what my dad always tells me: ‘play the rocks, not the people,’” Roth said. “[Team Sinclair doesn’t] really have any areas of weakness that we can really capitalize on. It’s all about playing best shots and doing the best we can at our game.”
For Team Sinclair’s part, there’s no hint of quit heading into game two.
“We’re a good team coming from behind, so I’m not too worried,” Sinclair said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity all season so we’re pretty good. We’ve got some routines in place. We’re just going to rest up and get fired up, make sure that we’re physically and mentally prepared for tomorrow.
“It’s going to be a battle, that’s for sure.”
The 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling continues Thursday evening as Team John Shuster and Team Heath McCormick face off in the first men’s playoff, which can be watched live at 7 p.m. ET. on NBCSN.