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2020-03-21

Lisa Weagle was jettisoned from Team Homan, but landed less than two weeks later as part of the new Jennifer Jones five player rotation.

Sarah Wilkes stepped in to fill the void at second with the Homan rink, setting off a sequence of events that would see the Chelsea Carey quartet, gold medal winners at the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, officially disbanded.

And don't think for a second that this off-season curling maneuvering is confined to the women's game.

The last rock thrown at the 2020 Brier had barely had time to settle in the house when news came that second Colton Flasch and the Kevin Koe rink were parting ways.

Closer to home, this trend that is beginning to rival the excitement of the opening day of NHL free agency on July 1st, with elite teams in the youth categories (U18 and U21) also prone to making changes, if only out of necessity, as athletes age out.

The Bella Croisier rink will be revamped again for 2020-2021, as the accomplished skip welcomes newcomer Rachel Steele as vice, while Emilie Lovitt (second) and Piper Croisier (lead) remain at their respective positions, leaving former vice Lauren Rajala in search of a new team.

"We've played Rachel for a good number of years now, every since we started competing down south," said Bella Croisier. "She's always been around the circuit, so we knew her from there."

A skip with her own team for the past little while, Steele had been attending Guelph University, just completing her first year of Biological Sciences studies, but will make the switch the Medical Sciences at Laurentian for year two in the fall, all while adapting to a new position.

"I skipped my own team before, so learning your new position and learning to own it is the biggest thing," suggested Lovitt, the Ottawa native who joined Team Croisier last September. "Rachel is such a good player, she will fit in. She still has that line and strategy aspect to her game."

"For us, specifically, it was kind of a mutual understanding that Bella was going to stay at skip," noted her younger sister, with Piper the only one of the four still with a year of high-school to complete in 2020-2021, preparing for grade 12 at Marymount Academy. "We've been successful with that format for many years now."

As for summer preparation in light of very uncertain times, the team that will compete only in U21 or Open Women's events next year is trying not to deviate too much from the past. "Usually we try and apply for the "Next Gen" program, and they typically run some boot camps, during the summer, so we can go down south and get some early ice," said Piper.

In other news regarding local curlers, the newly-formed Tanner Horgan rink of 2019-2020 will undergo only one minor adjustment, as lead Tanner Lott steps away to focus on family, replaced by fellow Manitoban Emerson Klimpke. The latter is just a year removed from his junior curling days, having served as vice for the Josh Friesen rink this past season.

Across the Horgan kitchen table, little brother Jacob is looking at a completely new team, altogether. Pulling together a foursome from across the country to take one last shot at junior curling glory this past winter, Jacob Horgan will now also make the move to Manitoba, joining a squad that includes J.T. Ryan, Colin Kurz and Brendan Bilawka.

Though Horgan effectively replaces lead Cole Chandler, he has not yet confirmed which slot he is likely to throw out of with Team Ryan, having enjoyed success both as either a vice or a skip, in junior ranks, but also with plenty of experience as a front-end player in his younger days.

Sister Tracy Fleury has indicated that her team of Selena Njegovan (vice), Liz Fyfe (second) and Kristin MacCuish (lead) will remain intact, as is, for 2020-2021. Coming off an outstanding season in which Team Fleury claimed top spot at a Grand Slam event, while also ranking among the top two to three teams in the country, the local skip will have to adjust to the addition of a newborn, later in 2020, as she and husband Brent welcome their first child.

In the "yet to be determined category", two-time defending Northern Ontario junior women's champion Kira Brunton is still finalizing the composition of the Team Brunton version for next year, with Lindsay Dubue (vice) returning to her hometown of Ottawa to curl with Emily Deschenes come September.

Also, we are awaiting word on a final destination for Youth Olympics' Canadian flag-bearer Lauren Rajala, who is looking to balance academics and athletics as she sorts through post-secondary options, all while also looking to her curling future, as well.

At 64 years of age, Eric Harnden is well beyond his days of bouncing from one team to another. The Sault Ste Marie native and father of the Team Jacobs mainstays Ryan and E.J. (Harnden), Eric was in Sudbury, last week, taking time to visit with Bruce Munro. Harnden and Munro were set to team with Frank Morrisette and Al Hackner, representing the NOCA at the Canadian Masters in April.

"The Brier, I would say, is the pinnacle of Canadian men's curling," offered Harnden. "I've participated in it, I've viewed it, watching the kids, and it's absolutely fantastic. The atmosphere is fantastic, the shot-making is fantastic, the whole Brier experience is so much fun."

"But playing in the Masters is also a lot of fun, for different reasons," he continued. "The curling is really, really good. We can still throw, we can still make a lot of shots. And when you're done, you come upstairs and have fun, just like at the Brier."

If the national championships come to fruition, it will be the third time that this specific foursome will have been present, boasting a team composition that Harnden truly appreciates. "Back in 2013 or so, Al (Hackner) and I talked about rather than playing against each other, why not play together," said Harnden.

"And we've enjoyed every minute of it."

No need to change this lineup.

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