National gold in the headlights for men’s and women’s curling
After capturing CIS bronze and silver last year, the women’s and men’s curling rinks want more
Last year, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks made history when both curling rinks won gold at the Ontario University Athletics championship.
Hosting the national championship as the top Ontario teams and battling against seven other elite teams in the nation, the women’s rink captured a Canadian Interuniversity Sport bronze medal while the men finished second in the country, capturing the silver medal.
But they want more.
Despite a CIS bronze medal two years ago and a CIS silver last year, the men are looking at gold. But to get to the national stage, they have to go through the likes of the Western Mustangs, newly equipped with a stellar skip in Toronto Varsity Blues graduate Evan Lilly — the Queen’s Gaels and the Guelph Gryphons.
All three of these teams play in the other pool, so the Hawks could not see them until the semifinals.
But they will have to play the Brock Badgers, who beat them 7-4 at the Brock Invitational last January. And the Lakehead Thunderwolves.
“We don’t see the Lakehead team really at any other time because of the expensive travel, so we don’t really know what they look like and could get a surprise from them in terms of quality of play,” head coach Glenn Paulley said. “We certainly looked out for them last year and we weren’t wrong. I’d expect nothing short of that this year from them.”
This year also has an added incentive, as the winning rinks get the chance to represent Canada at the 2017 FISU games held in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
And fifth-year Richard Krell, who was part of the Laurier rink that won CIS bronze and CIS silver, has his sights on gold.
“That’s definitely the goal. It’s never going to be easy,” he said. “We suspect that most of the [defending national champions] Alberta team will be back, and there’s always good competition in the OUA but the goal is certainly to win CIS gold this year.”
The women’s varsity rink will have a new look to them, as third-year Chelsea Brandwood took over skipping duties after Carly Howard and Kerilynn Mathers graduated.
Taking over at lead is second-year Megan Arnold while Brenda Holloway is throwing vice stones. Evie Fortier remains playing second.
Despite such high turnover, Brandwood doesn’t think this will have any affect on their performance going into the OUA championship.
“I think it’ll be a little different being a new team that’s playing together, but overall we’ve all been in pressure situations whether it was on this team or on different teams,” she said.
“I think pressure-wise and everything else we should be good.”
Paulley is confident in Brandwood’s abilities as skip for the women’s varsity rink because of her experience in high-pressure situations — she’s an Ontario junior champion, she’s been an alternate at the OUA level and the CIS level.
One of the things Paulley focused on as head coach of the curling program was championing the necessity for being fit.
The OUA championship is a grind – with 15 teams battling it out on the women’s side and 16 teams battling it out on the men’s side, it can be a daunting five-day bender.
In pool format, each team must play a total of seven games in the round robin before even playing the quarter-finals.
But Paulley still likes the Hawks’ chances.
“If any team is going to be able to handle that grind of playing all of those round robin games in a short amount of time, it’s going to be the team from Laurier,” he said.
Coming into the OUA championship, which begins Thursday in Guelph, Paulley said it’s going to be interesting for both rinks once the playoff round kicks off on Monday.
With the focus and goal being qualifying for CIS nationals, it’s important to use the experience and fitness Laurier exhibits to come out with more hardware.
“Certainly we want to qualify for the playoff round on Monday, tiebreakers are on Sunday night,” he said.
“Once we do the crossover, that’s going to be a battle. No question about that.”
-With files from Shelby Blackley