Fourth-stone Elizabeth Cousins (photo by Rich Harmer, USA Curling) of Team Traxler made the extra-end hit to finish 4-3
SPOKANE, Wash. -- A messy situation in the women’s standings of the USA Curling National Championships cleaned up just in time for the playoffs.
Ariel Traxler (4-3; Fairbanks, Alaska) clinched the third and final playoff spot following a dramatic 9-7 extra-end victory over Kim Rhyme (2-5; Minneapolis) during the final women’s round-robin draw Thursday at Eastern Washington University’s Recreation Center in Cheney.
Elizabeth Cousins makes the hit in the extra end to give Team Traxler the win over Team Rhyme to improve to 4-3 and grab the final playoff spot! #CurlingNats2020— USA Curling (@usacurl) February 13, 2020
It was quite the turnaround for Traxler, who did not qualify for the playoffs at junior nationals last month and had a front-loaded schedule facing top contenders Tabitha Peterson, Cassie Potter and Jamie Sinclair right off the bat. Traxler started 0-3 but turned things around winning four straight to get into Friday’s semifinal at 7 p.m. PT.
“It’s really unbelievable to be honest,” Traxler said. “I’m speechless. We came in here with not the best record at junior nationals and to come in here and win four straight in a row just feels incredible. Our self-esteem is up, our mojo is up, we feel really, really good.”
Traxler, who throws lead stones while calling the game, credits her teammates -- fourth Elizabeth Cousins (Medfield, Mass.), third Katherine Gourianova (Potomac, Md.) and second Elizabeth Janiak (Nashua, N.H.) -- for overcoming the odds.
“We all showed up this week,” Traxler said. “If we just had one more event I think junior nationals would have been a different story but it feels really good to be bringing here of all places.”
Entering the day there were more times that had qualified than eliminated with Sinclair and Peterson already advancing and only Rachel Workin eliminated. That left the remaining five teams fighting for the last spot and potentially multiple rounds of tiebreakers.
Workin (2-5; Fargo, N.D.) played the spoiler defeating Delaney Strouse (2-5; Malvern, Pa.) 10-4 to take the reigning junior national champion out of the running. Peterson (6-1; St. Paul, Minn.) blitzed Christine McMakin’s squad skipped by Patti Lank (3-4; St. Paul, Minn.) 12-3 and Sinclair (6-1; Charlotte, N.C.) shut out Cassie Potter (3-4; St. Paul, Minn.) 8-0 leaving just one game on the ice deciding the outcome.
Rhyme stole points in the ninth and 10th ends to make things extra spicy to force OT but Team Traxler fourth Elizabeth Cousins came through hitting for two on the last shot of the game.
“I always get way more nervous after the game,” Traxler said. “That’s when my hands start shaking. During the game, I try to be as cool as I can but there are still nerves there and we’re still a young team. We don’t have all of the experience most of these teams do going into extras, trying to win that 11th end. It is nerve-racking but we’re here.”
Peterson and Sinclair will play in the Page 1-2 playoff game Friday at Noon PT with the winner advancing straight to Saturday’s final while the loser takes on Traxler in the semifinal. Sinclair will start with the hammer thanks to her 8-7 extra-end win over Peterson during round-robin play.
Thievery was the name of the game Thursday morning for Sinclair, who never even held the hammer stealing two in the first followed by singles in four consecutive ends. After Potter blanked the sixth, Sinclair swiped two more points in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Peterson was already up 4-2 when she connected on an open hit in the fourth to score four points and put the game against Lank out of reach early. The five-time national champion Lank was limited to a single in five, Paterson scored another deuce in six and pilfered two more in seven.
The nationals will help determine Team USA for the world women’s curling championship, March 14-22 in Prince George, British Columbia, and the world men’s curling championship, March 28 to April 5, in Glasgow, Scotland. Winners also receive berths to the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup.
Any men’s or women’s team that wins the 2020 National Championships and is ranked 70th or higher in the WCF World Team Ranking System or has earned 60 points year to date as of Jan. 31, 2020, will be named Team USA for the Men’s/Women’s World Championships.
The USA Curling National Championships continue with the final men’s round-robin draw at 2 p.m. PT.