Due to technical difficulties, this post was unable to post on its intended date . After two days of competition, here are the current standings:
Team Schuster 3-0 Team Christensen 1-1
Team McCormick 3-1 Team Roth 1-1
Team Birr 1-2 Team Sinclair 1-1
Team Brown 1-2
Team Clark 0-3
In less than 100 days, all of the world’s greatest winter athletes will descend upon PyeongChang for the 23rd (I guess you’re supposed to use the roman numerals, XXIII) Olympic Winter games. For some, that journey begins this weekend in Omaha, Nebraska as the U.S. Curling Olympic Trials kick off. Starting Saturday, Nov. 11, eight teams, five men’s and three women’s, will compete for the chance to represent Team USA in South Korea in February. The tournament consists of 5 days of round-robin play, ending with a best of three playoff series.
For those new to the world of curling, picture a sport on ice that sort of resembles shuffleboard and bocce ball at the same time. One person slides a rock, a large polished granite stone with a handle,
down the ice towards the house, or circular target.
In a match, the two teams, made of 4 curlers each, play ten ends, or innings for you baseball fans. After each team has “thrown” eight stones, whichever team’s stone(s) is closest to the center of the ice, that team is rewarded a point(s). At the end of the match, whichever team has the most points, that team wins (I suppose that’s true with every other sport…).
Curling requires a lot of finesse and strategy, giving the sport its nickname, “chess on ice.” Much like certain types of chess games, each team has an overall time limit to make their move. It’s not the most invigorating sport, but it is fascinating to watch. Hours can easily go by before you realize it.
The teams competing for a spot in the Olympics are the best the country has to offer.
Competing on the men’s side…
Team Schuster comes into the trials as the top seeded men’s team and are the favorites to represent Team USA and for good reason. John Schuster, who is a Team USA sales associate with Dick’s Sporting Goods, has skipped (captained) the USA men’s team in the previous two Olympic Winter Games, and was on the US team which won bronze in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games. He is currently the reigning U.S. National Champion and is ranked 18th on the World Curling Tour.
Schuster means business. Since the last Olympics, he has lost 30 pounds, making fitness a priority in his daily life. When he is hot, he is the best in the nation. When he is cold, the whole team unravels. His experience, however, should be a huge factor as he has been in this situation before, and won. The rest of his team is top notch, having played together in some capacity for many years. Their alternate, Joe Polo, who will only play if another player is injured or playing poorly, was on the 2006 team that won bronze. Their team chemistry should help them through any rocky patches in this tournament.
Craig Brown, Owner of Steve’s Curling Store, is no newbie to this tournament, having played in every Olympic Trial since 2002. He comes in as the second seed and ranked 28th on the World Curling Tour. He was an alternate for Schuster in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. As a skip, he won the 2000 and 2008 U.S. Championships.
Brown hasn’t fared well in this tournament and that’s not likely to change. His best result was 2nd place back in 2006.The rest of the team is fairly inexperienced, despite having two Olympians (One was an alternate on Schuster’s team in 2014). Kroy Nernberger and Quinn Evenson have never played in this tournament. It will test the leadership of Brown to keep his teammates focused when the going gets tough. Don’t expect much from this team, especially if Brown misses shots early on in the tournament.
Heath McCormick, who works for McCormick Insurance Brokers Ltd., is looking for his first trip the Olympic Winter Games. He skips this third seeded team which is ranked 19th, just one spot behind Schuster, on the World Curling Tour. This is just his second US Olympic Trial.
This team has only played together for a little over a year. Team chemistry will be the main question for this team. Have they spent enough time together to be able to work cohesively? Chris Plys, the vice-skip, is one of the better at his position in the tournament. He was an alternate for Schuster for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. If he and McCormick are consistent throughout the tournament, they have the best chance in upsetting Team Schuster and representing the US in February.
Brady Clark, a special projects leader with Liberty Mutual, has done well at the US National Championships the past two years having won gold and bronze in 2016 and 2017 respectively. His team is currently ranked 25th on the World Curling Tour and a seeded fourth in this tournament.
Most curling teams hail from the Great Lakes region, but this team is an exception being based out of Washington. They have experience winning big tournaments together but don’t expect much from this team. Their only other notable note is that their vice-skip, Greg Persinger, owns a Cold Stone Creamery.
Todd Birr, the oldest in the tournament, skips this team currently ranked 50th on the World Curling Tour. He lead his team to a silver medal at this year’s U.S. National Championships.
Birr will most likely be the best at reading the ice, as he is the head ice maker at the Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minn. His team was the last to be added to the tournament after he successfully petitioned the U.S. Curling Association Judiciary Hearing Panal. Not sure what that means, but it may be something Birr regrets at the end of this tournament.
Now for the women’s side…
Nina Roth, a registered nurse, skips the top ranked women’s team in this year’s US Olympic Curling Trials. Her team is currently ranked 12th on the World Curling Tour. She has found success at the U.S. National Championships, coming in 2nd both in 2016 and 2017, despite her team being formed very recently. She skipped Team USA to a fifth place finish at this year’s World Championships.
As mentioned before, this team hasn’t spent much time together, having been formed in 2016 from the suggestion of USA Curling’s High Performance Program (picture American Idol, but for curling). Despite this, the team has clicked, playing very well together. They will need to continue to do so against their rival, Team Sinclair, in order to book plane tickets to South Korea in February.
Jamie Sinclair comes into this tournament skipping the second seeded team which is ranked 15th on the World Curling Tour. A woodworking enthusiast, Sinclair recently led her team to victory in the 2017 U.S. National Championship.
Sinclair is fairly new to U.S. Curling, having competed in Canada until a couple years ago. She has made a huge impact in the sport, trying to expose it to a greater audience. She can be regularly seen on Curling Night in America, which currently airs on NBCSN on Tuesdays. The rest of her team is very experienced. The rivalry between Team Sinclair and Team Roth shall make for an epic showdown this week, promising some very entertaining matches. It will come to down to whoever has the hammer (the last rock throw) in the championship to see who represents Team USA between these two.
At the ripe ol’ age of 22, Cory Christensen is the youngest skip in the entire field. In fact the entire team is made up of 22 and 23-year-olds. On the World Curling Tour, Team Christensen is ranked 31st. Christensen, herself, has won 4 of the past 5 U.S. Junior National Championships, coming in second in 2013.
This team knows how to win, but no one on this team has played a tournament of this magnitude. The future is very bright for this team; however it won’t look it at this tournament. The other two teams are miles ahead of them. Christensen will have a few blimps of brilliance but her time is not just yet. Experience will be the only thing this team will win this year, which should propel them to great success in the near future.
Team Schuster and Team Sinclair will be representing Team USA at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games.
All the matches will be streamed lived on the NBC Sports app or on NBCSports.com. Some matches will be aired on NBCSN. Click here for a schedule.
Enjoy the tournament!
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