Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
FREDERICTON, N.B. – Their first goal is in the books.
Even with one round-robin game remaining at the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association curling national championship, the MacEwan Griffins women's rink has qualified for the playoffs.
With Sunday victories over Fleming College (8-1) and UAlberta-Augustana (5-2), the Griffins are tied for top spot in the standings at 5-1 and will earn one of the top two seeds for Monday's semifinals.
"That was our goal," said coach Brian Lupul. "We set out to do that before we even came here. I kind of mentioned to the team before we left – 'gold wouldn't be so bad, you know.' The girls were like 'playoffs first.'
"I said 'yes you're right.' It was kind of humorous."
Usually it's the coach who puts the horse before the cart, but the fact that the rink of skip Ashton Simard, third Erin Wells, second Andie Kurjata, and alternating leads Taitan Hagglund and Rebecca Bartz did so demonstrates their maturity level and show how serious a chance they have at a national championship.
"We don't have any weak players on our team," said Lupul. "They just get along really well and they play for each other. They are a pretty darn good team and their strategy's been really good.
"I keep saying over and over Ashton (Simard) doesn't get rattled. If we miss a shot, she goes onto the next one. It's just a pleasure to watch. Tonight, they just shot the lights out against that team from Augustana that has given us some trouble in Alberta."
The Vikings beat the Griffins in the regionals and held a 5-0 lead over them in the ACAC final before MacEwan rallied hard to win 8-5.
On Sunday evening at the nationals, they scored two in the bottom of the sixth to take a 4-1 lead and refused to let UAA back into it, effectively sealing the affair with a steal of one in the eighth.
"Erin (Wells) made a beautiful hit and roll behind on her second shot in the eighth," said Lupul. "I think that was the turnaround point in the game. If they did the same thing to us, then we're chasing them and they have a chance to get back in. Erin made a really great shot."
He noted it was a game that could have been far more of a blowout if not for the play of Vikings skip Hannah Terry.
"The skip from the other team made two or three awesome shots," said Lupul. "We thought we had it tied up and she did something that was really difficult on more than one occasion and that kept them in the game. We could have blown it out, but she just played so well."
Earlier in the day on Sunday, the Griffins hammered winless Fleming College 8-1 with handshakes coming after the eighth end.
"The first game against Fleming, we had them on the run the whole game," said Lupul. "There was no real standout (shot), other than we played really well (all game)."
So, now the only question is if the Griffins can finish the round-robin in first place. They face a showdown against fellow 5-1 team – London, Ont.-based Fanshawe College – on Monday morning (9:30 a.m. MT) with top spot on the line.
Humber (4-2), UAlberta-Augustana (3-3), NAIT (3-3) and Douglas College (3-3) are all alive for the final two playoff positions.
The top four teams after tomorrow head to the semifinals, set for Monday afternoon (4 p.m. MT), with the No. 1 seed meeting No. 4 and No. 2 and No. 3 squaring off.
The gold and bronze games will go Tuesday morning (9:30 a.m.).