Make no mistake: Megan Smith is absolutely thrilled to be representing Northern Ontario at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary next month.
Along with teammates Sara Guy and skip Krysta Burns, the trio will be attending the national Open Women's bonspiel for the very first time (lead Amanda Gates will be making her fourth trip to the Scotties).
Yet Smith is absolutely adamant that she is not approaching the event with a "just happy to be there" attitude - not in the least. And in this season of sporting chaos, finding a happy middle ground is no easy task.
"Obviously, we want to go and do well and represent Northern Ontario as best as we can," said Smith, finishing the second year of her Bachelor of Education degree at Wilfrid Laurier University (Smith already possesses an undergrad degree with a B Science in Biomedical Biology from Laurentian).
While the troika of Scotties' newcomers will be experiencing that stage for the very first time, all three are more than a little familiar with nationals. "There are some parallels to junior nationals, for sure," said Smith. "But then you look at the level of play, the consistency that we are going to see from a lot of those teams (in Calgary)."
"In juniors, you have some very talented curlers that are there, but I would argue that you don’t see the same level of consistency. At the Scotties, you have to be a little bit sharper because the teams there are just so good. You’re playing against the Rachel Homans, the Jennifer Jones’, the Kerri Einarsons of the curling world."
"Each of those teams has so much experience that this alone can make it a little bit daunting."
The same, however, could be said for Team McCarville, the Thunder Bay rink that has donned the NOCA colours in many a previous Scotties, and the foursome that Team Burns would take right to the brink before bowing out in the 2020 Northern Ontario final.
"When we played McCarville, who I had never played before, we realized that we can play with them," said Smith. "It was kind of eye opening to know that we are not that far off. Yes, we still have a lot to learn, we’re fresh out of juniors, we haven’t had that experience yet, but we’re not from outer space, we’re not from another planet."
Just four months ago, Smith and company could not have seen this coming. Given her school commitments, Smith had agreed to step away from the 2019-2020 version of her women's team, with Burns, Guy and Gates set to move forward with Jenny Gates sliding in the place of their future teacher.
No hard feelings. Smith could still get her fill of a decent amount of competitive curling competing with the Laurier Hawks university team. "Typically, we would be playing in a league and practicing a couple of times a week, but obviously that got shut down pretty quickly - so I played a little bit with some of the girls who live locally and practiced a little bit," stated Smith.
"I also got to spare in a couple of events that were here. But honestly, curling was going to be on the back-burner for me this year. I would play university if there was any and then pick it up again more fully next year."
In a matter of less than a week in mid-December, those plans were turned on their head. With the McCarville quartet opting not to attend the bubbled Scotties that is set for out west, it was time to approach the runners-up.
"We’ve dreamed about going to the Scotties, the three of us that haven’t been, since we were little girls," said Smith. "Obviously, we want to feel prepared and certainly over the years, we’ve had lots of reps under our belt. Although we haven’t played a lot together (this year), I don’t think most teams have either."
"I think that a lot of teams are going to be in a similar position to us. One thing that we realized last year is that even though we didn’t play a whole lot together, the fact that Krysta, Sara and I played together for quite some time means that we are very familiar with one another, which really helps."
And so they are off, likely gathering in Sudbury for a couple of weeks prior to February 17th, to practice a little and quarantine as much as possible, all while balancing between shooting for the stars and still enjoying the moment.
"We’re going to rely on Amanda a lot, because she really does bring that perspective," said Smith "She’s been very competitive every time that she goes (to Scotties), but she also knows how to have fun. Her experience and personality will help us immensely."
"But I also think that Krysta is a huge part of this for us, just because she’s such a relaxed, calm leader. Playing with Krysta for so long, I noticed that I am so much calmer when I play with her. It’s just who she is and it’s a great quality to have as skip."