Team Fleury could not have scripted the fall / early winter of 2021 much better.
Skipped by Sudbury native Tracy (Horgan) Fleury, the Manitoba rink that features Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish had risen all the way to the number one ranking in the world.
It was no fluke, a statement that was only further cemented as Fleury and company reeled off eight consecutive victories against the very best female curlers in the country at the 2021 Tim Hortons Curling Trials in Saskatoon in November.
A direct path to the championship final appeared to set the ultra-friendly quartet up for the biggest moment of their lives, a chance to represent Canada at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.
And then the clock struck midnight.
A heart-breaking 6-5 extra end loss to Jennifer Jones carried over, to some extent, into provincial playdowns - “we just weren’t ready mentally to compete again”, acknowledged Fleury - as 22 year old Mackenzie Zacharias bested a veteran field to claim the Manitoba berth at Scotties.
Thankfully, the Team Fleury resume speaks for itself. When the decision was made to allow three wildcard teams directly into the full Scotties draw, they were at the top of that list. And while it won’t be easy, they are definitely looking forward to the chance to dust themselves off and return to the top of the mountain.
“We have to remember all of the things that we did that made us have such a good season, all of the things that helped us to be ranked #1 in the world and forget about the one game that didn’t go our way,” said Fleury before leaving for Thunder Bay.
As anyone who has competed in high level sport - a group that I clearly cannot lay claim to - will attest, this is far easier said than done.
Yet handling the entire situation with the class that has been her calling card since she first rose to prominence, on a national level, making multiple appearances donning the Northern Ontario colours at Canadian Juniors, the 35 year-old mother of one is completely candid in sharing the mixed emotions of her voyage this year.
“We had a good debrief after that event, as difficult as it was at the time,” noted Fleury, looking back on the Trials. “There was still a lot to talk about and learn from. The longer you play a sport, the better you get at winning - but you also get better at losing.”
“We’ve been playing for a while and lost a lot of games - it does make you stronger.”
Some might suggest that it was simply the moment that created the wild finish to the Fleury - Jones final. A certain victory for the latter was delayed by an end when Jones missed a shot that one and all conceded that she would make 99 times out of a hundred.
Still, Fleury contends that to those in the middle of it all, the environment was not unlike others which she has stared down and conquered dozens of times before. “When you’re in the moment, in the game, you almost feel a little numb to what is on the line,” she confessed. “It didn’t feel like a ton of pressure.”
In the immortal words of Pumba (Disney - Lion King), “you have to put your behind in your past”.
Or, far more eloquently worded by Fleury, “we’re going to park the disappointment from Trials and try and achieve this goal.”
“We do feel good,” said Fleury. “We’ve been having team meetings and working on a lot of the mental aspects. The Scotties has always been a big goal of our team. We feel good and ready to go again - but it really is hard to know until we’re out there and back in it again.”