The Laurentian Voyageurs are more than comfortable boasting about the excellence of their women’s curling program these days.
Capturing their second OUA title this past weekend to go along with countless podium finishes over the years – not to mention a pair of national banners in 2017 and 2019 – and a bronze medal performance at home last spring, folks at L.U. can proclaim that first statement proudly with a great degree of confidence.
The fact that there have been many different athletes who have contributed to this success clearly indicates that the work that has been done by coaches Ryan Lafraniere and Jan Pula over the years is second to none.
Throw that curling coaching expertise along with a whole lot of talent and you have the makings of a truly elite program.
The 2023-2024 edition of the Voyageurs’ women’s team knew, coming in, that they could be a force to be reckoned with, returning both the back-end of skip Bella Croisier and vice-skip Piper Croisier intact, as well as welcoming back Julia Deklein at lead.
Mya Smith stepped in this year to replace Abby Deschene at second, with Britney Malette serving as alternate. “Having a lineup that we are so familiar with, to us, was quite the advantage,” noted Piper Croisier, currently completing her third year in the Sports Administration program at Laurentian.
“We know each other quite well. Even though this was our first year curling with Mya, Bella and I have actually been curling against her for years.”
The Voyageur women overcame a slow start with back to back losses to TMU (7-1) and Waterloo (9-5), getting back to the .500 mark in round robin play with wins over Carleton (9-1) and Windsor (11-1).
“Going out and losing our first two games at the OUA Championships was a little bit disheartening – and definitely a little bit stressful,” said Croisier. “At the OUA’s, a 2-2 record is not a guarantee to get you into the playoffs.”
In fact, in the 16-team field that featured four pools of four, no less than ten teams landed at 2-2 or better – with only eight moving on to the quarter-finals. “After we lost those first two games, we sat down as a team to re-evaluate everything,” noted Croisier. “We had two round robin games and just said to ourselves: let’s just throw everything we have at it and hope that the curling gods kind of land in our favour a little bit.”
That said, the foursome did themselves a huge favour by excelling in the LSD (last stone draw) tie-breaker sessions that precede each game, their overall score of 255.79 securing first place in their bracket ahead of Guelph and Brock, both of whom also won two and lost two.
“We nailed our LSD draws,” acknowledged Croisier, her team actually sitting three on the button and one on the four foot in their final games. “We actually had one practice completely devoted to LSD.”
Safely through to the final eight, the Laurentian women knew full well that lopsided scores were likely to fall by the wayside. “The entire playoff was actually quite interesting,” said Croisier. “All of our playoff games technically could be considered rematches.”
Victories over TMU in the QF (6-4) and Waterloo in the SF (6-4) avenged their first two round robin games, while a gold medal squeeker over the McMaster Marauders (7-6) marked a turning of the tables from the 2023 OUA final which went the way of Mac.
After years of travelling the province non-stop for competitive youth curling bonspiels, the Croisier siblings are thankful for the change of pace that comes with this year’s schedule.
“It was definitely intense growing up for my sister and I,” said Piper. “I think we were travelling almost every other weekend and practicing close to four or five times a week. This year, with both of us aged out of juniors, it made sense to take a step back from that super busy very competitive schedule.”
“It gave us some time to step back and focus more on school, which was nice.”
Well, at least until the week March 12th to 16th when the Laurentian Voyageurs take a shot at a third national title in Fredericton (N.B.), site of the 2024 U Sports Curling Championships. The Laurentian men’s team also finished round robin play at 2-2 (wins over Trent and Ontario Tech), but were eliminated following a quarter-final loss to the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.
Meanwhile in Ottawa, the Kameryn Tellier rink representing Northern Ontario (#2) (and the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club) at the 2024 Canadian Under-18 Championships are now in the process of playing out the string, into the rankings games after posting a record of 2-4 in round robin play.
The team which includes Kelton Tellier at vice, Samantha Digiglio at second and lead Karleigh McNaughton from New Liskeard picked up wins over the Yukon and Prince Edward Island and lost close games to Alberta #2 (8-5) and British Columbia #1 (6-4), finishing fifth in their pool of seven teams.
The rink which was assembled this past November as a means to at least give the provincial playdowns a shot for some curlers who were aging out of the U18 bracket dropped a 10-3 decision to Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday night and closes out the experience with one final game opposite New Brunswick #2 on Friday evening.
That event gives way to a couple of other key competitions when it comes to local talent as three teams representing the Northern Credit Union Community Centre (skipped by Ian Deschene, Brendan Rajala and Mia Toner) head to New Liskeard late next week for the NOCA U20 Provincial Championships.
A day or two later, the best women’s curling teams in the country will assemble in Calgary, site of the 2024 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Sudbury content in that field includes Tracy Fleury, vice with the top ranked women’s foursome in Canada (Team Rachel Homan), as well as Kendra Lilly (lead with the Krista McCarville Northern Ontario entry) and Kira Brunton (vice with the Danielle Inglis Ontario entry).