Familiar faces will wear the red, white and blue at the upcoming World Championships as the Allison Pottinger rink captured the gold medal Saturday at the 2012 USA Curling National Championships is Aston, Pa.
The 2010 Olympic reprsentative, the Pottinger rink includes Natalie Nicholson of Bemidji. The team now will represent the U.S. at the 2012 World Championships next month in Lethbridge, Alberta, after defeating Team Cassie Potter, 7-5 in Saturday's national title game.
In the men's division, Pete Fenson's reign as the national champion ended Saturday as the Heath McCormick rink of New York scored the decisive rock in the 10th end and defeated Fenson 5-4 in the championship game.
During the tournament McCormick went 3-0 against Fenson and each game was decided by one rock. During the round robin Fenson lost 7-6 and in Friday's Page opener McCormick posted a 5-4 victory. Saturday the team from New York duplicated that result and the score.
For Nicholson and Pottinger, Saturday's victory was rewarded with their first trip back to the Worlds since 2009. They took a year away from the Nationals after the 2010 Olympic Games and finished second last year in Fargo.
"It feels really, really good but especially coming back from last year when we lost the finals," Nicholson said. "We feel good about coming back this week and playing really well and winning."
Despite Saturday's loss, Potter and vice-skip Jamie Haskell who both were raised in Bemidji, have earned a berth in the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
"It feels really good to hang in there and prove that we can stick with the rest of them," said Potter, who represented Team USA with her sister Jamie at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games. "The playing field this week has been really even. A lot of junior teams are coming up and it's not a matter of the top same two or three teams anymore. It's the top five or six, which is really good. I hope it keeps getting better.
This is the 10th national title for Pottinger and eighth for Nicholson.
In comparison to the Page Playoff 1-2 game, Saturday's gold-medal match between Pottinger and Potter had an aggressive start with many rocks in play in the first end. Pottinger scored first as the skip made a draw through a narrow port in the top of the house to tap back Potter's stone for two.
In the second end, Potter could only see a smidgen of the button as she tried to draw for two to tie the game but she didn't have the line on it and settled for one. Potter stole a single in the next end and the game was knotted 2-2. Pottinger extended the lead in the fourth end with a draw for two. Team Potter tried to blank the fifth end but Potter's hit didn't roll out. Pottinger added two more points in the seventh end with another draw into the four-foot.
Trailing now by three points, Team Potter missed out on an opportunity for the deuce in the eighth end when Potter's first stone slipped out of the back of the house. They would blank that end and start over in the ninth end with Team Potter capitalizing on a missed takeout by Pottinger to score two
Needing to steal the 10th end, Potter was able to keep the guards up throughout the end and got stones in play, but the game was won by Pottinger when Potter wasn't able to convert either of her runback attempts to move her stone closer to the button.
"We were hoping that we'd keep it a close game. We've had a few games where we were up on points and we've had a tough time playing defense so we wanted to keep it close and put a few more rocks in play at the end of the game," Potter said. "We did pretty well. We had rocks in there at the end and the last one didn't curl up as much. We were hoping for a little bit more roll off the last one."
McCormick and Fenson staged another one of their classic duels in Saturday's title game. McCormick used the hammer to open a 2-0 lead in the first end but Fenson answered with a pair in the second.
A point in the fourth and a steal in the fifth gave McCormick a 4-2 advantage but Fenson answered with one in the seventh and a steal in the ninth.
In the decisive 10th end, however, McCormick was able to place two rocks in the house behind Fenson's guards and eventually clog the middle to the point where Fenson's attempted takeout with his last rock was unsuccessful.
*Allison Pottinger 200 200 200 1 - 7
Cassie Potter 011 010 002 0 - 5
*McCormick 200 110 000 1 - 5
Fenson 020 000 101 0 - 4
*last rock in first end