Sweeping towards the podium

Men’s and women’s curling teams prepare for OUA Championships in February

Curling at the 2016 OUA Championship.
Curling at the 2016 OUA Championship.
Supplied by Shawn MacDonald

For the average person, their exposure to curling is rather limited. Often it’s glossed over on TSN, only highlighted during the Olympics. And while curling diehards may cringe at the layman’s knowledge coming from the TV guide, this casual exposure is actually what drew the skip of the Gaels’ men’s team to the sport.

“The first time I ever saw curling was during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002,” said Wes Forget, who’s in his fifth year on the team. “My mom had it on the TV and Kevin Martin was curling for Canada, and he hit a quadruple takeout — I had no idea at the time [what that] was — and was just expressionless. It seemed like a sport for a modest and shy individual, which I was at the time.”

TV exposure aside, curling is a family sport, passed down through generations. This is how Gaels’ women’s skip Courtney Auld, a first-year kinesiology student, got into the sport. Her mother and other relatives are competitive curlers, so she was naturally drawn to it as well. 

Both Auld and Forget started curling at a young age, something that coach Beth Calwell notes is standard for competitive curlers. She also describes junior curling as a “small world” where everyone is interconnected, a trait that feeds into making the composition of a university curling team unique.

“Most of the time, you choose who you curl with,” Calwell said, with Forget describing the process as forming a team based on your strengths and personal bonds with people you meet on the circuit. But the team at Queen’s is obviously different 

— with Calwell picking the players, five for each team, the players have no choice in how their rink is formed. While this seems like it could pose a challenge, with chemistry being so important and the team being so small, neither the coach nor the skips have found any issues. 

“I’ve known everyone on the team since before I came to Queen’s, having met them through my competitive team from back home,” said Auld, who compared the experience to high school, where she won the OFSAA title last year. 

Curling is a unique sport at Queen’s, not only because of its small size, but also because of its competition schedule and structure. The team practices twice a week starting in the mid-fall, and the season goes to March if they qualify for the U Sports Championships. 

During the fall term, things are complicated by the fact that players have commitments with their club teams back home most weekends, leading to them being away from the Gaels. While this situation wouldn’t be tenable in most other sports, it works for curling because Queen’s only participates in one competition before the OUA finals. 

Even when the players are curling elsewhere, they’re still getting valuable practice and experience — often in high pressure situations. In 2016, Auld won the Ontario Junior Championship, while Forget won the Travelers Club Championship in the same year with his rink from the Cataraqui Golf and Country Club here in Kingston, where the team practices and plays in local leagues. 

For this season, Calwell hopes both teams can improve on their finishes last season — men’s and women’s finished fourth and fifth in the OUA respectively, and the national championships are seen as a realistic goal, with the top three in the province qualifying. The OUA Championships are February 16-20th, with the U Sports Championship on March 19-22nd.


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