GANGNEUNG, South Korea – There is no doubt about the heart of Kirk Black and Team USA. For 11 round robin games the team took to the ice and departed it with their heads held high and lessons learned at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“Through all the rough times of this tournament, everybody kept their spirits up and encouraged each other. I can’t imagine another team being able to do what we did for one another,” Black said. “It was really probably the last six games where we came alive. The experience will prove great measure in the coming years.”
It certainly wasn’t the week that Black (San Antonio, Texas) and his team of Steve Emt (Hebron, Conn.), Justin Marshall (Evansville, Wis.), Penny Greely (Green Bay, Wis.), and Meghan Lino (East Falmouth, Mass.) envisioned when they arrived at the Gangneung Curling Centre six days ago as the Americans finished 2-9 in the round robin.
“This was, obviously, not the way we wanted the tournament to go or the way for it to end. We experienced it all together and that’s the most important part,” Marshall said. “We made a lot of new experiences and met a lot of new people. There will be a lot of good memories from this.” The U.S. team was coached by Rusty Schieber (Portage, Wis.), Marc DePerno (New Hartford, N.Y.) and Tony Colacchio (East Falmouth, Mass.).
Tonight’s 7-6 last-rock loss to Slovakia’s Radoslav Duris was the last of many hard-fought battles that were decided on the final one or two stones.
“We never gave up. I think we rallied toward the end [of the round robin] and played our hearts out,” said Greely. “It just came down to last shots and a little bad luck, but I think we played our best the last four games and that’s all we could do. We’ll come back kicking next year.”
With three members making their Paralympic debuts, the team knew that they needed to learn a lot and learn it fast – ice conditions, stone tendencies, ways to close out games for wins. In the end, Slovakia left the ice with a win to close out the tournament. For the Americans, they take away endless hours of experience to file away for Beijing 2022.
“Throughout the Korea game, there was no way we were going to beat Korea that night. They were on a mission, which was expected. The last 10 games, though, we didn’t lose – we got beat by the best teams in the world shot for shot,” Emt said. “It took great effort by our opponents to beat us. We didn’t give up, stayed together, and had a lot of fun out there. We’ll come back for 2022 and take care of business in Beijing.”
The U.S. was forced to take a single in the opening end but held Slovakia, with Dusan Pitonak throwing last rocks, to one point in the following end to keep the game close. In the third end the U.S. capitalized on a heavy draw to place a second stone in the house for Slovakia to chase. Emt would sew up the deuce with a draw into the eight-foot as the Americans took a 3-1 lead.
Slovakia countered in the fourth end with three nice draws that the U.S. couldn’t out-do as they took a 4-3 lead. A perfect hit and roll with Black’s first vice skip stone of the fifth end looked to set up a deuce but a missed takeout forced the U.S. into scoring just one point.
The U.S. would escape the sixth end only giving up a single point when it looked like Slovakia was poised for three.
In the eighth end, Black drew down to the back of the eight foot for second position but Slovakia removed it with Pitonak’s first skip stone to lie two. USA’s final stone needed to curl another inch to be frozen to a Slovakian rock – instead, it was left open enough for Pitonak to chip out for the win.
“Not one of these four got negative at all. You can’t ask for a better team dynamic than what we have right here,” Lino said after the loss.
The semifinals will take place at 3:35 p.m. KST on Friday. Top-ranked Korea (9-2) will take on surging Norway (7-4) while Canada (9-2) and China (9-2) will battle in the other semifinal. The winning sides will play for gold at 2:35 p.m. Saturday while the losing teams will compete for the bronze medal at 9:35 a.m. Saturday.
All games are streaming live at www.nbcsports.com and on the NBC Sports app with TV coverage on the Olympic Channel and NBCSN. A complete schedule is posted at https://www.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/Features/2018/February/27/NBC-Announces-Commentators-For-2018-Paralympic-Winter-Games.
*USA 102 010 20 – 6
Slovakia 010 301 02 – 7
*last stone in first end (hammer)
Other session scores: China 9, Great Britain 3; Germany 8, Finland 4; Sweden 5, Switzerland 3
Final round robin standings:
5. NPA* 5-6
6. Switzerland 5-6
7. Great Britain 5-6
8. Germany 5-6
9. Slovakia 4-7
10. Sweden 4-7
11. Finland 2-9
12. USA 2-9
*Neutral Paralympic Athletes
Q=qualified to semifinals
USA round robin results:
Korea 7, USA 3
Germany 6, USA 4
USA 10, Sweden 2
Finland 8, USA 5
Neutral Paralympic Athletes 6, USA 4
China 6, USA 4
Canada 6, USA 5
Switzerland 7, USA 4
USA 9, Great Britain 3
Norway 5, USA 4
Slovakia 7, USA 6