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Another NOCA title, despite reduced bonspiel schedule

Perhaps playing bonspiel after bonspiel isn't completely necessary after all.

Working with a more reduced schedule of competitive events in 2019-2020 did not detract the Thunder Bay/Sudbury rink of Krista McCarville, Kendra Lilly, Ashley Sippala, Jen Gates and Sarah Potts from laying claim to yet another NOCA championship last weekend in New Liskeard.

Team McCarville downed the Krysta Burns Idylwylde Golf & Country Club crew 6-5 in the gold medal encounter, earning yet another berth at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, a second straight appearance from more or less the same lineup.

And this, despite dropping down to just three cash-spiel events this winter, easily their lowest total in the past six to seven years, or so. "We talked in the summer and just given everything with Krista and her two kids, and Ashley now with a 10-month old baby and a three year old, and Sarah expecting her first child, and Kendra and I with our jobs, we all have things in our lives that we prefer to put first, as opposed to doing the travel," explained Gates this week, as the northern women prepare to leave for Moose Jaw next week.

"We do still put in just as much time as the people playing more games," added the relative newcomer to the squad, with Gates experiencing her inaugural visit to the Scotties, as a player (she served as fifth for Team Fleury a few years ago), last winter in Sydney (Nova Scotia).

"We practice while they are playing games. We just do it in the comfort of our own cities. We know that we could play more, but we really don't want to. We like the schedule that we have - it keeps us excited for curling."

Excited - yes, but combined with a burning desire for excellence.

"We expect to come out and play our best when we compete," said Gates. "We might not play as many games, but we are practicing behind the scenes, all the time. It's a good balance that everyone on the team is on board with - and it seems to work better for us."

"And the times that we are not firing on all cylinders, we may get a kick in the butt from our coach. We expect a lot from ourselves."

True enough.

McCarville and company would post a 6-0 record in round robin play at provincials, earning a berth directly into the final, all while still not quite yet hitting their "A" game - at least in their books, anyways.

"I would say that we played very well, managed the ice really well, capitalized on some missed shots by other teams, but we definitely can play better," suggested Gates. "There were moments when we were firing on all cylinders in New Liskeard, but I don't think there were any full games where we accomplished that. I still think we have that in us."

"It wasn't completely consistent the entire time, so there is room to play the way that we can, and we're hoping that it comes together at the Scotties, when we will need to play that way."

Play at the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw (SK) will commence next Saturday (February 15th), with Northern Ontario grouped into a pool that also includes Nunavut, Quebec, Team Canada, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba.

Needing to secure a top four pool finish to remain in championship flight for the second half of the week, Team McCarville gets things started in the first draw against Chelsea Carey (Team Canada), facing Andrea Crawford (New Brunswick) on Monday, and tackling some double duty on Tuesday, with match-ups opposite Kerri Einarson (Manitoba) and Noemie Verreault (Quebec).

While the Tracy Fleury rink was eliminated in the semi-finals of the provincial championship in Manitoba, she and her team will have one more "play-in" crack at a wildcard berth, battling Jennifer Jones in a winner take all affair on Friday, February 14th.

Much closer to home and before that all starts, a pair of competitions could see local curlers advance to the next stage in their quest to attend a cross-country playdown. Five teams gather in Capreol, this weekend, including four from the area, as Region 5 looks to crown a qualifier for the Curling Club Championship provincials, taking place in Sault Ste Marie from March 26th to the 29th.

Greg Blanchette and his team of Ron Brunette, Bob Paquette and Mike Auger will enjoy home ice advantage, joined by rinks representing Curl Sudbury (David Daoust, Steven Baptista, Felix Legendre, Steve Pellat), Copper Cliff CC (Dustin Montpellier, Jason Strelezki, Chris Gordon, Matthew Gordon), the Idylwylde (Patrick Chartier, Rich Schmidt, Chris Jillings, Steve Garrett), and the Jeff Brown skipped crew from North Bay.

In Thessalon, a combined bonspiel will move along a total of four entries to the U18 NOCA tournament (March 4th – 8th in Sault Ste Marie), with nationals set to run roughly six weeks later, in Sudbury.

The girls draw this weekend features an all-Sudbury troika, headlined by the defending national championship Idylwylde Golf & Country Club foursome of Bella Croisier, Lauren Rajala, Emilie Lovitt and Piper Croisier, with Jamie Smith having aged out. The defence of their crown, however, will run through the very talented up and coming quartet of Mia Toner, Valerie Ouimet, Justine Toner and Emilie Glabb, the pride of Curl Sudbury.

Rounding out the field is a second Idylwylde entry (Alexandra Buttery, Zoe Valliere, Grace McAllister, Samantha Digiglio, Bailee Bouffard), with the local club also enjoying dual representation on the boys side courtesy of Team Branconnier (Samuel Branconnier, Patrik Labrosse, Tyler Smith, Alexandre Rheaume, Sebastien Whissell) and Team Rajala (Brendan Rajala, Ian Deschene, Jesse Crozier, Duncan Smith, Scott Mitchell).

Still with the 2020 Canadian Under-18 Boys and Girls Curling Championships (April 20th – 25th – Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex/Idywylde Golf & Country Club), the event remains in search of additional volunteer help for the hosting of this competition.

Registering to volunteer is incredibly straight-forward, easy to navigate by simply visiting the championship website (www.curling.ca/2020under18/) and following the header for "Volunteers".

If you have an interest in ensuring that 28 teams from coast to coast are treated to some true Sudbury hospitality, be sure to register soon.

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