Women’s curling team strikes gold in Japan

Laura Crocker is no stranger to leadership.

Playing the skip position for Wilfrid Laurier’s women’s curling team for the second straight year, Crocker’s experience on foreign soil helped ease her teammates into a successful showing at the Karuizawa International Curling Championships as they claimed gold for the red and white.

As the defending Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) champions from 2011, Team Laurier became Team Canada for a couple weeks.

“I’ve been to the world juniors but as the five of us, this is the first time any of us have competed internationally together,” said a jet lag-recovered Crocker at the newly decorated KW Granite Club on Monday.

Press clippings, pulled pork buffets and Canadian flags adorned the local curling rink to welcome home the victorious five.

Crocker led her lead Pam Feldkamp, second Jenny Gates, vice Sarah Wilkes, and fifth Cheryl Kreviazuk through a pressure-intensive 9-8 gold medal win against Team Switzerland whose members were aged in their late 20s and early 30s.

In fact, most of their competition had already experienced numerous world championships; a fact that didn’t faze Crocker.

“There’s not too much difference,” said Crocker of the level of play. “Everyone in Canada is really good at curling and so is the rest of the world, but there were lots of new things we had to deal with like travelling overseas, and jet lag and the different air pressure.”

To fly home with the hardware around their necks, the girls pulled out a stunning come-from-behind extra-ends victory over the Swiss.

Losing 4-2 and 8-5 at points in the contest, the team earned three points in the tenth and final end and snuck away with one point in the 11th as Switzerland’s shot failed to hit its target. It was revenge for the Canadians as the Swiss had beaten them in the tournament-opening match 5-4; one of only two losses sustained by the team.

”We found ourselves in a situation where nine times out of ten; any team in our situation, including us probably wouldn’t have won the game. We just persevered and in the last end, we made all our shots and we got lucky with a couple misses by [Switzerland] and we found ourselves with the gold medals around our neck,” said Crocker.

Laurier also defeated a very experienced Chinese team, 10-8 in the semi-finals just an hour earlier.

The squad beat Team Japan, a different Japanese selection team, a Nagano selection team, Team China twice, and Team Denmark. The team fell to Switzerland and Korea in the round robin.

“It’s pretty surreal being there, wearing the maple leaf,” said Gates. “Dealing with the pressure [was the biggest adjustment]. Ignoring those big expectations and making our shots was important.”

In addition to flying home with the gold, the team took time to visit Karuizawa and Tokyo.

“It was kind of a ski resort town; different from Tokyo,” said Crocker of the host town. “The people were unbelievably nice and respectful and just treated us like royalty the entire time.”

”We were kind of stared at a lot because we looked pretty different,” chuckled Gates. “But it was a really cool experience.”

Among shopping around the strip malls and eating the unique cuisine, the team visited the Canadian embassy, and was shown a tour of the facility by the staff.

The team even ran into a few life-sized Pokemon characters as documented in Crocker’s blog.

“Yup, a lot of Pikachus,” said Gates.

Crocker and the team took time to thank Laurier for the opportunities they receive while playing.

“A lot of universities in Canada don’t do anything for their curling teams. We get everything,” said the gracious skip.

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