Croisier rink comes up big

The Sudbury Star - - SPORTS - RANDY PAS­CAL

Na­tional cham­pi­onships in curl­ing, as in most sports, come and go with reg­u­lar­ity. Once ev­ery 12 months, those rock throw­ers with the com­pet­i­tive itch are go­ing to en­joy the op­por­tu­nity to avail them­selves to some sort of play­downs, look­ing to carve a path to Cana­di­ans.

Given that back­drop, any kind of “Games” set­ting, be it of the Olympic va­ri­ety or oth­er­wise, will al­ways carry an ex­tra special mean­ing. Cer­tainly that is the case for the Canada Win­ter Games, where one has to hope that the over­all team cal­en­dar slides in nicely with the qua­dren­nial cy­cle, al­low­ing young curl­ing rinks their best pos­si­ble shot at CWGs.

That was clearly the case for the lo­cal quar­tet of Me­gan Smith, Kira Brun­ton, Mikeala Ch­es­lock and Emma John­son, the Sud­bury Curl­ing Club reps who claimed gold while don­ning the On­tario team colours back in 2015 in Prince Ge­orge, B.C.

For the se­cond straight time, not only will the On­tario women’s team com­pet­ing at the Canada Games hail from North­ern On­tario, but it will also be com­prised en­tirely of Sud­buri­ans. The Idyl­wylde Golf and Coun­try Club rink of Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Piper Croisier and Lau­ren Ra­jala (coach Shawn Croisier) emerged from a field of eight teams last week­end in Sault Ste. Marie, look­ing to build on an im­pres­sive re­sume that al­ready in­cluded a trip to U18 na­tion­als in New Bruns­wick.

“I think we were aware that there were a lot of other good teams there (in SSM), and that re­gard­less of who won, there was go­ing to be a re­ally good rep­re­sen­ta­tive from On­tario,” said Jamie Smith, who throws vice and now fol­lows in the foot­steps of her older sis­ter (Me­gan) in earn­ing a cov­eted berth at the Canada Win­ter Games.

“I think that’s why you didn’t see any­one go 7-0 through the round robin. It was so tight. We could win or lose any game.”

Early on, how­ever, vi­sions of an un­de­feated run cer­tainly might have danced through the heads of lo­cal sup­port­ers. Team Croisier looked ab­so­lutely dom­i­nant in bolt­ing their way to a 4-0 start with vic­to­ries over Mahra Har­ris of New­mar­ket (10-1), Jes­sica Guil­bault of Oshawa (8-1), Jes­sica By­ers of Hal­ibur­ton (8-2) and Rachel Steele of Port Perry (8-2).

De­spite put­ting them­selves in great po­si­tion to se­cure one of four semi­fi­nal spots up for grabs, the lo­cals were about to en­counter their first bout with ad­ver­sity. The Idyl­wylde four­some dropped a 3-2 de­ci­sion to Faith He­bert of Thun­der Bay, edged Emily Desch­enes of Man­otick 8-7 by scor­ing two in the eighth and fi­nal end, and then lost 5-4 to Paige Brown of Na­van in a con­test that fea­tured a rare blanked ex­tra end.

“A re­ally im­por­tant thing for us is to al­ways re­ally sup­port each other, 100 per cent, no mat­ter what hap­pens,” noted Smith. “Just mak­ing sure that we are al­ways com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each other, al­ways talk­ing with one an­other.”

After en­joy­ing an in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful sea­son in their in­au­gu­ral cam­paign with this ver­sion of Team Croisier, the lo­cal teens knew full well that things tend to even them­selves out, at least a lit­tle, over time.

“We haven’t had as much suc­cess as we had at the be­gin­ning of last year,” said Smith. “But I think we were also com­ing off a re­ally big sea­son and it took some time to get back into things. For this team, specif­i­cally, I think it’s most im­por­tant that we just have con­fi­dence and that we trust that it will get bet­ter.”

It re­ally could not get a whole lot bet­ter than the play­off round the girls ex­pe­ri­enced in the Sault, stop­ping the Desch­enes rink 7-3 in the semi­fi­nals and then jump­ing out to a 5-1 lead after three ends in the fi­nal against Team Vivier (Paige Brown at skip) and hold­ing on for a 7-6 win in the gold-medal en­counter.

“Score­board man­age­ment was re­ally key, just mak­ing sure we were con­trol­ling the right ends,” said skip Bella Croisier. “Com­ing home tied is not a bad sit­u­a­tion for us. We’re go­ing to win more of those games than we lose.”

That con­fi­dence fac­tor is but one area where Croisier feels that she is, on a personal level, much fur­ther ahead than she was in Septem­ber of 2017.

“I think I am a bet­ter skip, just be­cause I have way more ex­pe­ri­ence than I did at this point last year,” said the 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Mary­mount Academy.

“Go­ing to na­tion­als, I learned so much from there. Com­pet­ing at Scot­ties (provin­cials) last year, I learned rock pre­ci­sion. That was the big thing.” And that’s a les­son that is cer­tainly not lost on the en­tire team lineup. “Play­ing that high level cal­i­bre of teams, at U21s, was su­per help­ful,” noted se­cond Piper Croisier.

“We got to re­ally learn about rock place­ment and tol­er­ance, the way to miss. Inches mat­ter, an­gles mat­ter. Tol­er­ance is ba­si­cally where your shot can be. So on a draw, for in­stance, it’s any­where from eight foot to four foot. It’s the best way to miss.”

Hav­ing moved from se­cond to lead this year, 16-year-old Lau­ren Ra­jala can ap­pre­ci­ate those finer nu­ances.

“At lead, it’s a lit­tle bit eas­ier to find your draw weight than at se­cond,” she said. “At se­cond, you’re throw­ing a bunch of hits, and then, at some point, you have to tone it down and throw that draw right when it’s im­por­tant.”

De­spite fall­ing in the U21 NOCA fi­nal to Kira Brun­ton, Ra­jala sug­gested her team re­grouped quickly when it came to hit­ting the ice just a week later, with a trip to Al­berta on the line.

“It was dis­ap­point­ing, yes, but we had to fo­cus on what we re­ally wanted, and that was CWGs,” she said. “It was all about put­ting it be­hind us and fo­cus­ing on what’s ahead. That re­ally helped.”

As for the Games, which will host women’s curl­ing in week two of the com­pe­ti­tion, to­wards the end of Fe­bru­ary, Ra­jala cap­tures the ex­cite­ment of the en­tire team, as she looks for­ward to what amounts to a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity. “Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the Games, soak­ing it all in, is what’s im­por­tant to me,” admitted the Grade 11 student at Lasalle Sec­ondary.

“I def­i­nitely think it’s go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, wear­ing the open­ing cer­e­monies gear and be­ing with other peo­ple play­ing dif­fer­ent sports than you.”


The Idyl­wylde Golf and Coun­try Club rink of Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Piper Croisier and Lau­ren Ra­jala (coach Shawn Croisier) emerged from a field of eight teams last week­end in Sault Ste. Marie and is look­ing to build on an im­pres­sive re­sume that al­ready in­cluded a trip to U18 na­tion­als in New Bruns­wick.

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