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U of R’s women’s curling team earns last spot in CIS championship

Jonathan Hamelin
Sports Editor

It was likely the happiest Alexandra Williamson has ever been after checking her voicemail.

On Saturday, Feb. 26, while Williamson was curling with her junior squad at the Callie Curling Club, she received a message on her phone from her university coach David Miller. The message informed her that her University of Regina women’s curling squad was heading to the CIS curling championships, at Memorial University in St John's, Nfld. The championships began on March 9 and end on Sunday.

The Williamson's rink — also consisting of third Kelsey Michaluk, second Stephanie Gress, lead Jade Ivan, and alternate Chantel Martin – hopes to go to nationals was on thin ice. Competing at the Canada West championships last month in Edmonton, Regina finished third at 1-2 in the four-team women’s division. Since only the top two teams in the conference were to advance, it appeared as though Alberta (3-0) and Saskatchewan (2-1) would advance out of the women’s side.

However, there was some uncertainty around whether the Quebec Athletic Conference would send any teams. Since the QAC did not have any regional playdowns, they were not allowed to send any teams to nationals and this opened the door for the third place finisher in the men’s and women’s division at Canada West to advance. This helped Regina’s women’s team, but not the men, who finished last at regionals (0-5). Manitoba (5-0), Alberta (4-1), and Saskatchewan (3-2) advanced out of the men’s side.

There are eight men’s and women’s teams competing at nationals, also including three teams in each division from Ontario, one from the Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and New Brunswick area, and the host team.

“[David] left me a message and told me to start packing my bags because we’d be leaving in a week or so,” said Williamson, a first-year social work student. “It was pretty exciting, but at the same time it’s nerve racking because you’re missing a whole bunch of school. But you can catch up on school.

“We knew there was a chance we could be going if we got third place [at Canada West], so we definitely had to make sure we got third place just in case Quebec decided not to go. We had our fingers crossed for a couple of days hoping they would not go.”

This year, for the first time in Canada West and Atlantic Canada, regional playdowns were used to determine which teams would advance to nationals. In the past, the best team from each school could go. While this new format almost led to Williamson’s squad not going, she is still happy with the new format.

“I think it’s good,” she said. “You have to compete to get anywhere. That’s what it’s like in junior competition too. You have to win at every level to keep going up and up to other levels.

Though they have reached the next level, Williamson and her team don’t have much time to revel in their success. The club has had to focus on the top-notch competition they will be facing at nationals. The team has only been together for around a year – each curling in the Saskatchewan Junior Curling Association ranks before that – so they have been trying to get in sufficient practice time. Regionals had been the first major university competition for any of them.

“We certainly haven’t had as much practice as the other teams have and we haven’t really played a lot together because we have other commitments,” said Williamson. “Now, our commitment is to this team so we’re looking to do better at the national competition. Since we are underdogs, we’re hoping to use that to our advantage.”

There could be some added pressure on Williamson’s rink, due to the fact that they will be trying to defend the U of R’s title from last season. At the 2010 nationals in Edmonton, Alta., Brooklyn Lemon’s U of R  women’s squad topped the Saint Mary’s Huskies 6-5 in dramatic extra-end action to finish first. It was the U of R women’s first national curling title. Lemon’s team then advanced to the World Universiade in Erzurum, Turkey, in late-January/early-February, where they placed sixth overall with a 4-5 record.

“It’s mostly comforting [knowing Regina has had success at nationals] and there’s not so much pressure,” Williamson commented on trying to defend the title. “We know Brooklyn’s team has been here, so we feel we can do pretty good here too. We’ve just go to play our best.”

And, though they almost didn’t qualify for nationals, it is not like Williamson’s team limped in. They finished comfortably in third at regionals after earning an 8-3 victory over fourth-place Manitoba (0-4). Regina fell to Saskatchewan and Alberta by close 7-5 counts. Williamson was happy with her team’s performance at regionals and is looking forward to nationals, win or lose.

“We’re happy just to have the experience of going,” she said. “It was a goal that we had set at the beginning of the year. You’ve got to look forward to the experience – there’s a banquet and we’ll get to meet new people. We weren’t exactly supposed to be going, so getting the chance to go is awesome.”

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