Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
FREDERICTON, N.B. – Sighs of relief washed over the MacEwan Griffins women's curling team as UAlberta-Augustana skip Hannah Terry missed a double runback and they stole one to win their semifinal match at the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association national curling championship on Monday evening.
Oh sure, there's a fair bit of excitement for the Ashton Simard rink in the fact they've advanced to their first CCAA final, but their 8-7 win over UAA was such a victory out of the jaws of defeat that deep breaths are needed first.
"We just stuck with it," said Simard. "It wasn't our best game. We were missing the wrong way. We knew if we kept it close, we had a chance at the win and steal in the 10th end there."
Simard's crew of third Erin Wells, second Andie Kurjata, and alternating leads Taitan Hagglund and Rebecca Bartz trailed 3-0 in the first two ends and recovered. Then they trailed 7-5 after eight, only to somehow recover and survive to live another day.
"It was definitely nice to just get that win, but we know tomorrow we're definitely going to have to play better," said Simard. "That's not going to get us the gold. We're definitely going to have to make more shots."
They'll face New Westminster, B.C.-based Douglas College for the national title at 9:30 a.m. MT (cbc.ca).
MacEwan will be aiming for the first national women's crown in program history and the first CCAA curling gold for MacEwan since 2013-14 when the Griffins men's rink claimed the national championship.
If there's one trait the Griffins have been able to lean on many times this season it's an unmatched steely resolve that no matter the score, no matter how large the rally, they will always come back. That's exactly what happened in last month's Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference final when they recovered from a 5-0 deficit against those same Vikings to win 8-5.
Perhaps referencing that rally, they just stuck with the process and overcame a tough day on a sheet of ice that was curling like a live wire in some spots while being flat in others.
"It wasn't our best game and our players didn't shoot as well as they could have," said MacEwan women's coach Brian Lupul. "The other team gave us some chances and played well when they had to. They kept it close. We kept it close. So, we were always in the game.
"I think I've mentioned many times in the past that this team never gives up. If we're close or even have a little way to go, they still manage to work hard and pull it out. They just don't give up."
Simard admits they caught a break in the ninth when Terry missed her final shot and she was then able to draw for two with the hammer. That tied the game 7-7, but the Griffins were still fighting an uphill battle without the final shot in the last.
Two years ago, Griffins lead Taitan Hagglund was skip of the MacEwan mixed team, playing a larger role than she's had this season when she's been alternating every other match on the front end of the Simard rink. But the shot she executed with her second stone in the 10th was as important as any she's had as a Griffin.
"Taitan made a nice hit and roll behind the guard, then the next six rocks we just guarded it basically and hoped and prayed and it worked out for us," said Simard of their 10th end steal strategy.
Lead Taitan Hagglund pulled off the key shot in the 10th - a hit and roll behind a guard that the Griffins protected the rest of the way to steal one and win (CCAA photo).
Lupul noted that shot forced the Vikings to chase them instead of the other way around.
"That turned the whole tide of that particular end because the other team was coming after us now instead of the other way around," he said.
Still, when Terry stepped into the hack for the final shot, Lupul wasn't overly optimistic.
"She had a shot to win the game at the end," he said. "She had to do a double runback and stay there. It was difficult, but it wasn't hard and their skip has been playing well this week, so I thought this is going to be close, and she missed it.
"I like the other team and the coach and said to him 'I have mixed emotions about this because I like your team, but I'm sure glad we won.' "
Earlier in the day on Monday, the Griffins clinched first place in the round-robin with an 8-3 win over defending national champion Fanshawe.
"That was big time," said Lupul. "That skip was like the NAIT skip. When she's on, she's almost unbeatable. She struggled a bit with her draw weight. We played well and I expected them to play a little better. They didn't play as well as I thought they would."
Despite a 5-2 round-robin record, Fanshawe didn't make the final either in a nightmare day for them, losing 11-2 to the Douglas Royals in the other semifinal.
MacEwan defeated Douglas 11-4 when they previously met in the opening game of the round robin last Friday. The Royals had trouble with the ice that day, but seem to have figured it out, so the Griffins know they'll need to be at their best.
"We're going to be on a different sheet, but it should be similar," said Simard of tricky arena curling conditions. "We've just got to find our draw weight a little earlier and trust that it's going to curl because there's a lot of curl on this ice."
Added Lupul: "Our team is strong all the way around. (Douglas) has a really good top end, so we're going to have to make it difficult for them. We'll see how it goes, but I am confident we'll have a good game."