As the 2020 Alberta Winter Games inch closer, three local curlers are preparing to vie for medals in front of family and friends.
Airdrie athletes Hannah Northwood (skip), Jada Walls (second) and Hudsyn Palyszniuk (third), along with Calgarian Brynne Masson (lead), make up Team Northwood – one of three rinks representing Zone 2 (Big Country) in the U15 girls’ curling tournament.
Northwood said the rink is excited to compete at the Airdrie Curling Club (ACC), where the athletes practice twice a week.
“It’s pretty cool, knowing so many people will be watching us,” said the Grade 9 student at George McDougall High School. “It’s kind of nerve-wracking, though.”
The rink booked its spot in by winning the qualifying tournament at the Lethbridge Curling Club in December 2019. Northwood, who has curled for four years, said the team has a strong chance of success at the Games.
“We get along really well and we’re confident with how we play, so I think we’re going to do well,” she said.
According to coach Ross Simmons, Team Northwood formed about four years ago – though Masson joined earlier this season – and have developed a strong chemistry.
“They communicate and get along well, which is important,” he said. “As far as curling goes, they’re really good shot-makers.”
Simmons, who has been coaching the rink for four years and is also ACC’s head ice technician, said the athletes have become good ambassadors for the club. He added the Alberta Winter Games will provide a platform for the athletes to gain exposure, and perhaps even advance their curling careers.
“It’s a good stepping stone towards going to the Canada Winter Games and it’s a stepping stone towards getting into the U21 and ladies and men’s [leagues], if they continue on with the sport,” he said.
The rink competes regularly in bonspiels throughout Alberta, and recently took part in the Curlers’ Corner U15/U18 bonspiel in Innisfail, Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, finishing first after winning its final draw in a dramatic comeback.
“We’ve gone to Okotoks, Cochrane, we’re going to Carstairs and Strathmore, and we played in a ‘spiel in Airdrie, too,” Simmons said. “There will be 10 ‘spiels we go to in the winter.”
He added the four curlers – all either 14 or 15 years old – have punched above their weight this season, often competing in an older age category.
“In two of them, they played in U18, and they made the playoffs in both of those,” he said. “The other ones, they’ve either won or come in the top three.”
Along with bonspiels, the rink competes in the Calgary Youth Curling Association, and won its division last season.
Individually, the athletes also compete on their school curling teams, and were in action Jan. 30 at the Rocky View Schools divisional championships at ACC.
“They’re good kids and work hard,” Simmons said.
It’s not just on the pebbled ice where the rink excels.
Northwood competes in BMX racing, and has been ranked in the top 10 provincially and nationally for her age group. She also contributes on other sports teams for the Mustangs, and participates in the George McDougall band.
Walls competes provincially in BMX as well, while Masson is on the wrestling team at Ascension of Our Lord School in Calgary.
Palyszniuk is also a multisport athlete, according to Simmons, participating in competitive ringette as well as jazz dance and gymnastics.
For now, the focus remains on the Feb. 15 to 17 U15 girls’ curling tournament and the excitement of participating in the Alberta Winter Games.