Griffins net silver medal, three all-star awards in setting program's high watermark at CCAA nationals

Although the final didn't go their way, the Griffins had plenty to smile about after posting the best-ever result by a MacEwan women's curling team at a national championship (CCAA photo).
Although the final didn't go their way, the Griffins had plenty to smile about after posting the best-ever result by a MacEwan women's curling team at a national championship (CCAA photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

FREDERICTON, N.B. – The Tuesday night awards banquet showed just how dominant the Griffins women's rink was at the 2019 Canadian Colleges Athletic Association national championship.

Skip Ashton Simard, third Erin Wells and second Andie Kurjata all won all-star awards at their respective positions – an incredible three-quarters of the honours handed out to some of the best female post-secondary curlers in Canada.

"The nationals (awards) are based on shooting percentage, so that just shows how much we put into the game and how well we were curling," said Simard, who shot a sizzling 81 per cent in the round robin, the best of any player at any position.

"(My team) curled very well this week and it's just nice to see them get appreciated for that. Just to see how the team actually played and the results, it's great."

Earlier in the day, they had a wave of initial disappointment after losing 9-7 in the national championship final to New Westminster, B.C.-based Douglas College. But it didn't take long for the team to realize how special their CCAA silver medal is – in fact it's the best result in the history of the Griffins women's curling program.

"The first time there were a couple of tears when we initially got off the ice," said women's team coach Brian Lupul. "But when we were riding back to the hotel, they agreed it's quite an achievement and we've got some improvement to go. Next year maybe we can come back and get the other one."

The rink, which also includes alternating leads Taitan Hagglund and Rebecca Bartz, was first place after the round-robin at 6-1 and won their semifinal before losing a close one in the final on Tuesday.

"I think we were pretty proud of it almost immediately after, even though it didn't go our way," said Wells. "Last year, it was a bit more disappointment when we lost out for a bronze (and finished fourth), but this year we knew we'd get a medal either way. It's an accomplishment in itself.

"We've got one more year with the team and we hope to do better again."

Erin Wells won the CCAA all-star third award for a second-straight season (CCAA photo).

For Wells, the all-star honour marks the second-straight nationals she has achieved the feat, also winning the award in Leduc in 2018. This year, she shot 73 per cent – not only the best at her position but top five out of the whole field.

"It's always something to be proud of," said the Fort McMurray native. "You just want to play the best you can and to get it is an honour."

Kurjata's 77 per cent was the best mark among seconds and only trailed Simard in players who met the minimum amount of games played. Part time Fanshawe second Gabrielle McSloy shot 80 per cent in three matches, which wasn't enough to qualify for the award.

MacEwan previously defeated Douglas College 11-4 in the opening game of the round-robin last Friday, but the Royals had been getting stronger all week as they better figured out the ice conditions. They provided a stern challenge to the Griffins on Tuesday, stealing two in the third end to take an early 3-1 lead, which MacEwan erased with a steal of their own in the sixth.

After forcing the Royals into only taking one in the seventh, the Griffins came into a key eighth end looking to score multiple points to take control of the affair. Instead, they ended up conceding a steal of three.

"That was definitely a turning point in the game," said Simard. "There were a couple of other moments, but that big three was tough to come back from."

Ashton Simard lets a shot go earlier in the tournament. She finished as the CCAA all-star skip (CCAA photo).

Lupul noted Simard had a little bit of misfortune on her shot in that end.

"We actually hit one of our own out in trying to remove one of theirs on a runback double, which was pretty makeable," said Lupul. "Wouldn't you know it, they had a little one biting in the back and that counted three. It was a little bit of bad luck and that other team played that end pretty well."

The Griffins grabbed two in the ninth, but still needed to steal two in the 10th, a monumental task against a team throwing as well as Douglas was.

"We did have one around the guard and were hoping for a bit of a miss and if she does we might have a chance, but the other skip made a nice shot," said Lupul.

That basically forced the handshakes between the final stones for each skip didn't need to be thrown.

"We were missing just little tiny things," reflected Lupul. "We missed a guard by a couple inches. We missed a come around and the other team seemed to have it down just a little better than us."

Added Simard: "They were definitely making a lot and we were kind of making more of the half shots, so we never really had much pressure on. We were kind of chasing the game, but we kept it close. It just unfortunately didn't go our way."

Much of the rest of the tournament did – the Griffins were the top shooting team all weekend (74 per cent) – and achieved the program's first CCAA women's curling medal since a bronze in 2013.

"I think we were on fire all week," said Wells. "There wasn't really a down moment that we had. Even in the gold medal game, we still played well. It's just certain shots didn't go our way."