ON THE ROCKS: Return to some normalcy after pandemic season energizes Olympic Trials curlers
SASKATOON — You could see a noticeable bounce in Krista McCarville’s step as her team hit the ice for practice Friday, a day ahead of the 2021 Canadian Curling Trials.
The 39-year-old skip from Thunder Bay was relaxed, excited, and said she had a sense of wanting to just live life to the fullest and not worry about small things.
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“The pandemic did have a little bit to do with that,” McCarville said at SaskTel Centre.
“Being trapped at home, I loved it, but at the same time I’m not a person who can normally be trapped at home. I’ve also had a few friends diagnosed with cancer recently and I just feel like you’ve got to live life to the fullest and do what makes you happy.”
What makes her happy is curling with her teammates on one of the biggest stages in the game.
A school teacher by trade, McCarville is also an excellent curler who always shows up at the biggest events, despite not being a regular on the “pro tour.”
This is her third appearance in the Olympic Trials and, after sitting out last season amid the COVID-19 crisis, everything seems good with the world as this event gets underway.
“I was teaching from home for a long time and we were missing out on curling and hockey and every activity that we usually are into,” McCarville said. “We live a very busy life and it all kind of shut down, which was nice, but at the same time you got to the point where it’s ‘OK, I need to get back into things.’
“And here I am. This feels pretty normal.”
McCarville and her teammates, Kendra Lilly, Ashley Sippala and Sarah Potts, will open the Trials Saturday afternoon against Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg, the 2014 Olympic gold medallist.
Her team was one of the last to qualify for the trials, emerging from a field of 14 teams to do so at a pre-trials event in Nova Scotia just last month.
“We haven’t been to a lot of spiels this year so it’s nice to have been in an event where your intensity is up and you’re fired up and you’re excited to be there,” she said. “It was similar to this type of event and I do think it helps us.
“You get this different intensity about you when you come to an event like this, with the lights and the fans and all these great teams. It’s a really exciting feeling.”
Casey Scheidegger, of Lethbridge, Alta., is also a school teacher and can relate to McCarville’s enjoyment of just being out and about and playing a sport she loves.
Scheidegger did plenty of remote learning sessions with her students through the pandemic and didn’t curl much in the 2020-21 season.
Her team, like McCarville’s, was not involved in the bubbled events put on by Curling Canada and the Grand Slam of Curling in Calgary last year.
“We’re excited to test ourselves against some of Canada’s best — well, all of Canada’s best, really,” Scheidegger said after practice on Friday.
“We feel like we’ve done everything that we had the opportunity to do to practice and build up to this. We weren’t part of the Slams and you take a little bit of a hit in the competition route, but we’re really happy with everything we were able to do, getting up to the Trials.”
The Scheidegger team, which includes Cary-Anne McTaggart, Jessie Haughian and Kristie Moore, opens the tournament against Laura Walker of Edmonton on Saturday afternoon. The team has played only one other event this year, and that was the direct entry bonspiel, in which it qualified for the Trials.
“We’re very grateful to be here and that we have the opportunity to play,” Scheidegger said. “We’re just taking it all in. This is our second event as a team this year and we’re just trying to enjoy the experience as much as possible.”
After years of knocking at the door, Brendan Bottcher finally kicked it down earlier in 2021 and that has him feeling like it’s wide open now with the biggest prize in curling on the line.
Bottcher and his Edmonton teammates enter the Canadian Curling Trials as a favourite after winning the Brier, for the first time, last March.
The foursome, which includes Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin, played in the Brier final for the fourth straight year, after losing the first three, and finally emerged as the champion.
“It gives us some confidence,” Bottcher said Friday after the team practised. “We’re comfortable with the situation, we’ve been here before and last year we proved we could win that big game, in the biggest moment. That gives us some comfort, but that’s not gonna be enough to win this week. We’re gonna have to be comfortable and play our absolute best.”
Bottcher said the key to having success at the Olympic Trials is to put the pedal to the metal from start to finish.
“Against the field we’re gonna be playing against this week, you can’t let off the gas, even one iota,” he said. “If anything, I think after you win, there’s a little bit of added pressure because now there’s all this expectation that’s on your back. You’ve really got to dig in and work a little bit harder than we’ve done in the past. We’ve done that the last couple weeks and now I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.”