Welcome to the curling silly season that is simply sillier than most.
Yes, it is true that at this time of year, in the recent past, the shuffling of team rosters is somewhat commonplace. It’s perhaps occurring a little ahead of schedule in 2021, given the lack of April nationals, but youth teams at the U18 and U20 level have routinely utilized early spring as the guideline to deal with changes to their lineups, often times precipitated by the mere fact that age restrictions render some teammates ineligible for the following season.
The fact that Jamie Smith and Lauren Rajala should be confirming their 2021-2022 intentions right around the Easter long weekend is hardly shocking. The fact that they will run with a five-person lineup which kind of morphs into two separate four player entities to accommodate the double-national playdown schedule for the upcoming season, well, that’s a little out of the ordinary.
And in these times, that should hardly surprise us.
Let’s set the table for next year for Smith, Rajala and company: first, the entirety of their roster will also include Isabelle Ladouceur (from Nova Scotia), Katie Shaw (from P.E.I) and Katy Lukowich (from Manitoba). The team, which can compete at the junior level next winter, will represent Curl Sudbury in their bid to capture a provincial title and more.
Though trying to follow the entirety of the sequence that is the Curling Canada flow through to World Juniors in the next few years is a fool’s errand, suffice to know that there will be a national qualifier in Saskatoon in November, the winner of which is the Canadian entry at the World Junior Championships in March of 2022 (location still to be announced).
Directly on the heels of that event, Canada will play host to another national junior bonspiel, seemingly scheduled for Stratford, with the winner of that event set to travel to Worlds in March of 2023. Because the age eligibility rules are different for the two sets of nationals, Team Ladouceur (if we can call it that) is taking a different approach in the fall.
Ladouceur has agreed to skip the team through the first portion of the schedule, stepping back and focusing on her academics in the second semester (the 2022 portion of the schedule). At that point, Lukowich will join the team in earnest, though she is available to serve as a substitute at the pre-Christmas events, should one of the remaining quartet be unable to commit for a given weekend.
Confused yet? If not, you are further ahead than I was as I worked my way through the one-off that is the junior curling season to come.
“It’s very messy right now,” said Smith.
So how exactly does one go about planning with so many variables up in the air?
“Honestly, we didn’t make any assumptions (regarding the pandemic),” added Smith, who curled out east with both Ladouceur and Shaw during the truncated 2020-2021 campaign. “We just tried to plan for all of the possible scenarios of what school could look like, whether it’s going to be fully in person or whether it’s going to be a mix.”
“We have different plans for what will happen.”
Either way, the relinking of the two Sudbury natives who curled for two highlight filled seasons with Team Croisier became something of the building block for the remainder of the roster construction. “I had been talking to Lauren, given that I was thinking about coming back to Sudbury,” said Smith, now 20 years old and committed to continuing her studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in September (third year of Financial Mathematics).
“Everything came together with the Curling Canada announcement about the spiels for next year. Isabelle and Katie had talked about staying together, and I didn’t know if I was going to be staying in Waterloo. They said they were willing to come to Sudbury to play, so that came together really quick.”
But with both Smith and Ladouceur as potential overagers for the second set of nationals, there was a need for one more reach-out. “Katy will be a fifth until the first part of the season is over and then take over from Izzy,” said Smith.
Rajala, who attends Laurentian University (just finishing first year of Forensic Sciences) and curled with Abby Deschene, Jessica Leonard and Mya Smith this winter, is more than happy to go with the flow, to an extent.
“I am really excited about having everyone come to Sudbury,” noted the 18 year-old graduate of Lasalle Secondary who represented her country at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in early 2020. “I enjoy just meeting new people, getting to know them, seeing how the team will function.”
Rajala suggested there were a few factors at play when it came to merging into this new local rink. “For myself, I definitely wanted to keep playing juniors,” she said. “I do have two more years left. And I’m really excited to be playing with Jamie again. Jamie is older, but we picked up a couple of younger curlers, which was something that I look forward to.”
Positionally speaking, it’s looking like the following: Ladouceur (skip), Smith (vice), Rajala (second) and Shaw (lead), with Lukowich likely to throw last stones in the second half of 2021-2022, though Smith also has experience at skip.
“It’s important that everyone knows their role,” Rajala agreed. “I definitely like the front end positions better. I like the sweeping aspect and I find the communication between the front end players to the back end players really interesting.”
In the end, all of the curlers involved are really just trying to make the best of a once-in-a-lifetime situation, just as are most other people in sport.
“I know all of them well, other than Katy,” said Smith. “We got along so well in the past - honestly, I just had a lot of fun playing with all of them before. That gets me excited, more than anything.”