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Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018
Additional perspective added to elite female curling mix
by Randy Pascal

Krista McCarville, Kendra Lilly, Ashley Sippala, Sarah Potts, Tracy Fleury, Jennifer Wylie, Amanda Gates, Jenna Enge and, to a lesser extent, Crystal Webster, have literally spent countless hours on the ice together at curling venues across Northern Ontario.

But it hasn’t happened a whole lot in Sudbury.

That has changed this week, with the 2018 Scotties Provincial Championships taking place at the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club. “We do have a lot of provincial experience, but this is the first time we’ve played at home, so that piece is a little different for us,” noted Fleury.

With her rink of Webster (vice), Wylie (second), Gates (lead) and Enge (fifth), Team Fleury will enter the event as slight underdogs, in spite of the home ice advantage. That’s what happens when your primary competition (McCarville, Lilly, Sippala, Potts) can lay claim to capturing each of the last two NOCA titles, and are coming off a very strong showing at the Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials in December.

Yet as much as there is sense of familiarity in the journey for the local reps, there is a new element of the mix, one that comes along courtesy of the Wylie clan welcoming the first “team addition” since the quintet assembled some three years ago. “We actually nicknamed “Kolton” (now just a few months old) “perspective”," noted Gates.

“Along with Crystal’s girls (the Calgary native is mother to eight and ten year old daughters), they help remind us that life is life, and curling isn’t always life,” added Gates. “You give it your all on the ice, then you step off and know that there’s other things going on in life. It’s a good thing. It’s been nice to grow this way together.”

In fact, even the northern rivalry, one that would see Fleury (then Horgan) and Sippala (then Miharija) contest some of the dramatic junior women's finals in NOCA history, has endured a softening tone, over the years.

"I think we've grown as adults, there's a little more friendship now, a little more chatting with Kendra on the team, someone that we know well," said Gates. "They are great competitors, it's great to play them, and it's wonderful to have a team like that in our province that we can match up with."

While Fleury, Wylie and Gates all developed together, from their earliest days of Little Rock involvement at the Idylwylde, Webster joined the mix in the summer of 2015, a move formulated from an attempt to strike a healthy balance as work demands. It had become increasingly difficult for the squad to navigate the kind of competitive schedule that was needed to remain exposed to the top end of female curling talent, both nationally and internationally.

“It was just kind of a fateful change,” said Webster. “My old team (in Alberta) had decided to disband, everyone was looking at other opportunities. I was at a point in my life where I wanted to either find a top ten team in Canada, or retire, so I kind of just threw my name out there a little bit. This just seemed like a natural fit.”

And though it will be Webster who joins Fleury in the house this weekend, with Gates and Wylie handling front-end duties, even this roster displayed an element of evolution. “My first two seasons here, I played front end,” said Webster. “I think it was a great opportunity for me to sit back and learn a little bit about what makes Tracy successful as a skip.”

Fleury, for her part, has been equally as comfortable with a lineup that no longer affords her the opportunity to share the house with her older sister (Wylie), nearly as much. “They are surprisingly very similar,” said Fleury. “They have the same mind for strategy. Crystal is probably a little more likely to express her opinion than Jenn, but they’re both really great.”

Joining the McCarville and Fleury juggernauts at the event is the local U18 foursome of Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Lauren Rajala and Piper Croisier. Despite not hitting the win column in their first three games, the kids have proven themselves to be extremely formidable foes.

Team Croisier dropped a 6-4 decision to Fleury on Thursday afternoon, losing 5-3 to McCarville Friday morning, with both games coming down to the final stone. Though an 8-3 loss Friday afternoon to their clubmates would mean the end of the line for the four teenagers, the experience they garnered was immeasurable for a team that displayed plenty of signs of their potential for curling excellence.

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