Curling rocks the house in Kitchener

Laura Crocker calling a shot during her opening game against Team Horgan Wednesday. (Photo by Heather Davidson)
Laura Crocker calling a shot during her opening game against Team Horgan Wednesday. (Photo by Heather Davidson)

Laurier alumni return to stomping grounds at Road to the Roar

There’s never really anything better than a homecoming.

And last week, Wilfrid Laurier curling alumni Laura Crocker, Jen Gates and John Morris had the best of homecomings, returning to Kitchener-Waterloo for the Capital One Road to the Roar curling Olympic pre-trials0 in Kitchener.

“It feels awesome,” Morris, a Laurier graduate from 2001, said after his first game last Tuesday evening. “I have a lot of great memories in this city and I had some of the best years of my life here.”

Morris remembers a lot about his time at Laurier — highlighted by his Tuesday nights at Wilf’s Pub or the stock of purple and gold in his closet.

“I know it’s, what, Tuesday night? When I was in university, I used to go to Wilf’s,” the curling star laughed. “But now that we’re here, we’ve got to stay focused on the event.”

It had been a while since Morris was in the area, but for Crocker and Gates, the homecoming was a lot earlier. Graduates of 2012, Crocker and Gates stayed together while moving out to Edmonton, Alta., to continue their curling aspirations.

So coming home, everything seems familiar.

“It’s fun; it’s a lot of fun. There are familiar faces everywhere. Everyone’s treating us like we’re the home team. It’s been great,” Crocker said before her practice last Monday.

Crocker and Gates won the 2011 and 2012 national curling championships while at Laurier, defeating the Brock Badgers in both affairs. In the 2012 championship, Crocker and her rink qualified to represent Canada at the 2013 Winter Universiade games in Trentino, Italy.

But last week, both Morris and Crocker’s focus was on the pre-trials in Kitchener.

“Our focus is to stick to what we do best,” Crocker said. “We’ve actually been playing really well. We haven’t gotten the best results this year, but we’re playing well enough to win.”

Crocker dropped out of the Road to the Roar after three losses and one win, failing to advance to the Roar to the Rings, the Olympic trials in Winnipeg at the beginning of December. However, Crocker, 22, and her rink were the youngest women’s rink at the tournament.

“[Our goal was] just consistency and putting everything else aside and just throwing curling rocks,” Crocker said. “That’s what we have to do at this point and my goal is to win, but to do that, we have to focus on the process and not the outcome.”

And while being back in her old stomping grounds is a good feeling, Crocker insists it doesn’t play into her on-ice performance.

“It’s something I try not to think about, to be honest,” she said. “We have to go out there and play our game and it doesn’t matter who’s the home team. It’s the team that makes the most shots.”

But a different fate was in store for Morris, who was flawless at the pre-trials, winning all five of his games and advancing to the Olympic trials.

Morris believed this was a big step for his rink, after announcing earlier in the year that he was going to leave Kevin Martin’s foursome as the vice. Morris also won a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver with Martin’s rink.

“I’m playing with a great bunch of guys and they’ve sort of rekindled my passion for the game,” Morris said. “We’ve had a real good start to the year and [we want to] not only represent our province but maybe some Laurier pride here too.”

But before they left, they made a promise to stop by the school that helped shape their curling careers.

“I’m hoping to get on campus once or twice this week,” Morris said. “I might need to hit the Hawk Shop to get some more Golden Hawk attire because mine’s getting a little low.”
Shelby Blackley

(Photo by Heather Davidson)
(Photo by Heather Davidson)

Sonnenberg, Sweeting qualify for Olympic trials in Winnipeg

It seemed like everything was in the cards for third-seed Renèe Sonnenberg of Grand Prairie, Alta., Saturday evening as she faced off in a rematch against eighth-seed Kelly Scott of West Kelowna, B.C. in the Capital One Road to the Roar curling pre-trials in Kitchener.

In a matchup that had only transpired a couple of days before, both teams were facing off again, but this time the stakes were higher, and an Olympic trial berth was just within reach.

Last game, both teams traded stone for stone until the end of the seventh when Scott stole two points from Sonnenberg to take the lead 6-3, and then carried the hammer coming into the final end to win the draw 8-5.

“We got caught a little bit on the ice on sheet five, it’s a little swingier over there, and we didn’t really like the rocks we had,” Sonnenberg said about the ice conditions in her previous draw versus Scott. “A couple of them were curling a little bit more and I just made a mental mistake when we gave up that steal of two so the game was actually closer than what the score showed.”

“We knew if we just came out and executed a little bit better and trusted our stones on the ice today that it would all be fine.”

This time would be different.

It began the same; both teams were trading stone for stone for the first half of the game, keeping it really close.

It was not until the sixth end when Sonnenberg managed to score a crucial four points on her hammer, taking the lead, and control of the draw 7-3. She capitalized in the eighth end by scoring another three points, totalling her score to ten and building a comfortable lead.

“[It was a] huge difference for our team,” Sonnenberg said. “We’ve seen a million teams come back this weekend, in fact we did one yesterday. We weren’t going to let up an inch and we didn’t, and we’re very proud of ourselves.”

Scott managed to gain a point in the seventh, but that was all she could muster. Sonnenberg captured the draw in nine ends, and thus an Olympic trial.

“I can’t believe it. I love curling in Winnipeg, and on arena ice again in front of a huge crowd, with those phenomenal teams,” Sonnenberg gushed on returning to Winnipeg for the Roar of the Rings Olympic trials. “It’s what every curler dreams of.”

When asked if she felt like she caught onto ice conditions quicker than Scott did during the draw, Sonnenberg said, “It may have been an advantage that we played the final there.

“We knew that [one] side was a little straighter and the other side swung a whole bunch. That definitely helped us. The girls played great, we put our rocks in great positions today.”

Sonnenberg joins six other women’s teams in Winnipeg to compete for a chance to represent Team Canada in Sochi, Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics. She will be joined by Edmonton’s Val Sweeting, who defeated Scott 6-4 in the final qualifying game Sunday afternoon. Roar to the Rings qualifiers will begin on Dec. 1.
– Drew Yates


Morris claims qualifier berth

On Nov. 9 at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex, John Morris and his team won their spot at the Canadian Olympic Curling trials. The win came against 2012 Tim Horton’s Brier champion Brad Jacobs at the Road to the Roar Olympic curling pre-trials competition.

Morris, who graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a degree in kinesiology and health sciences in 2003, certainly didn’t choose the easy route to represent Canada.

He announced in April of 2013 that he would be leaving Kevin Martin’s team and joining Jim Cotter’s, taking over as skip, and throwing the thirdrocks.

Morris already has a gold medal from the 2010 Olympics around his neck, and he and Martin’s team have already earned their spot at the Olympic Trials by winning the 2011 Canada Cup. But leaving Martin and joining Cotter’s rink meant Morris had to qualify for the Olympic trials all over again.

But,Morris was able to do so by winning a grinding game against Jacobs Saturday night. The game was decided on Cotter’s last shot with the final score being 5-4.

The game was unusual for the normally-focused teams, with both sides missing critical shots and neither team capitalizing on the other’s mistakes.

“This last game wasn’t our best … we haven’t played in any big games like that as a team before, so it’s a great one for experience,” Morris said.

Jacobs agreed that his rink could have been better as well. “This was not our best game, and neither of us were able to really go for the jugular when we had the chance.”

Jacobs was still able to qualify for the trials by clinching the second and final spot in a game against 2006 Olympic gold medalist Brad Gushue Sunday evening.

“There’s no pressure like the Olympic trials, I think it’s even more [pressure] than the Olympics themselves,” Morris said.

Both men and women’s teams from Canada have never failed to medal in the past four Olympics. Curling has only been included in the Olympics five times, in 1924, and from 1998 on.

When asked about how his time at Laurier has impacted his success in curling John said, “I’ve had some of the best years of my life here at Laurier, they breed great people.”

Morris will play a much-hyped game against his former team, Team Martin, and fellow gold medalists in the final round of the round-robin draw of the Canadian Curling Trials on Dec. 6 at 8:30 a.m.

– Dan Rankin

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