World Team Trials curling action gets started today
Bemidji curlers will put both titles on the line this weekend when they defend their championships on their home ice at the 2006 U. S. World Team Trials.
Formerly called the U.S. National Championships, the combined men's and women's meet will be held at the Bemidji Curling Club today through March 11.
It is the first time since 1996 that Bemidji has hosted the nationals, a tribute to its earning both berths in this year's Winter Olympic Games.
The challenge round ended at Eveleth in January, with the final five teams earning spots in the nationals.
Four teams earned trips to Bemidji earlier that month at two qualifying rounds held in the Boston area.
Qualifying at Eveleth were Rich Ruohonen of St. Paul; Troy Schroeder of Appleton, Wis.; Greg Eigner of Fort Wayne, Ind.; Jason Larway of Seattle; and Todd Birr of Mankato.
Previous qualifiers for the men's division were Bemidji's Olympic Team of Pete Fenson, which received an automatic berth; Craig Brown of Madison, Wis.; Don Barcome Jr. of Grand Forks; Craig Disher of Rolla, N.D.; and Paul Pustovar of Hibbing.
The men's field features past champions in Brown (2000), Disher (1997), Larway (1989-92-2001-04), Pustovar (1977-80-91-98-2002), Barcome (1999) and Fenson (1993-94-2003-05).
The World Trials open today with the opening men's draw at 10 a. m. and the second at 3.
The opening women's draw is Sunday at 2 between two more men's draws at 9 and 7.
Round-robin play will continue through Thursday, with tiebreakers that night if needed.
The semifinals are set for Friday and the title matches March 11.
Unlike the Olympic tournament, the Page playoff method will again be used at the nationals.
That will match the first- and second-place finishers in the round robin, with the winners advancing to the final.
The third and fourth teams will also play, with that winner meeting the 1-2 loser for the second berth in the championship matches.
It marks the 50th year of the championships.
The Olympic teams skipped by Fenson and Cassie Johnson are the defending champs of the nationals, which also served as the Olympic Team Trials last season.
At the World Championships last year, the U. S. women won the silver medal and the men's team finished sixth, losing a playoff tiebreaker after ending the round robin in a six-way tie for first.
At this year's Olympics, Fenson tied for second in pool play at 6-3, then bowed to champion Canada in the semifinals before beating Great Britain to bring home the bronze medal.
Johnson went 2-7 in the round robin and failed to gain the playoffs.
This year's world meets will be held at Grande Prairie, Alberta, March 11-19 for the women and at Lowell, Mass., April 1-9 for the men.
The U. S. women have made the playoffs the last three years, winning the gold in 2003, finishing fourth in '04 and second last year.
The men have not made an appearance in the medal round since 2002 when they lost the bronze-medal match to Scotland.
The men had not medaled since 1993 when they shared the bronze with Switzerland before the third-place match was implemented in 1995.
The women's field was announced earlier this month and includes top teams such as Debbie McCormick (2003 world champion), Patti Lank (four-time national champion) and the Olympic Johnson rink from Bemidji.
Due to travel commitments, Cassie Johnson will not be able to play in the nationals, with Jessica Schultz taking over the skip's role. Alternate Courtney George will move into the starting rotation as lead.
Schultz skipped several Alaska teams in the national junior meet.
Duluth's Aileen Sormunen rink would also have withdrawn if her team won the U. S. Junior National championship and played in the World Junior Games this week at Jeonju, Japan. However, it did not and she will be on hand.
Bemidji curlers will again be very much in evidence in both divisions. Mark Haluptzok will curl third and Quentin Way second on the Barcome rink. Haluptzok has curled for many years with Barcome. Way supplants Tim Johnson, who also curled for years on the Grand Forks quartet.
Brothers Matt and Cody Stevens of Bemidji will curl third and second on the Brown rink, while the Fenson rink will be completed by Shawn Rojeski and John Shuster of Chisholm, Joe Polo of Cass Lake and veteran Scott Baird of Bemidji.
Baird skipped the 1979 and '93-'94 national championship rinks and curled with Fenson in 2003.
Bob Fenson, who will coach his son's team, was a teammate of Haluptzok and Baird on the four-time state high school championship rink in the 1960s with Dan Haluptzok.
In the women's division, Jamie Johnson, Courtney George of Duluth and Maureen Brunt of Portage, Wis. will join Schultz.
Sarah Lehman and Monica Matson are members of the Amy Wright rink from Duluth while Natalie Simenson Nicholson is lead for the McCormick rink. She had previously curled on national contenders for both Wright and Lank.
With Sormunen on hand, Minnesota will make up half of the eight-team women's field with Johnson, Norma O'Leary of Silver Bay and Marge Smith of Duluth joining Sormunen and Johnson.
Fenson, Birr and Pustovar are the only state rinks in the men's field though the Pustovar foursome normally curls out of Wisconsin. He is the lone state resident on that rink.
Today's opener will match Fenson with Eigner at 10 and with Barcome at 3. The Schultz rink faces Smith at 2 in its first draw.
World Curling Team Trials
Pete Fenson, Shawn Rojeski, Joe Polo, John Shuster, Scott Baird
Don Barcome Jr., Mark Haluptzok, Quintin Way, Mark Lazar
Craig Brown, Matt Stevens, Cody Stevens, John Dunlop
Craig Disher, Kevin Kakela, Joel Jacobson, Carey Kakela, Zach Jacobson
Paul Pustovar, Greg Wilson, Pat Roe, Richard Maskel
Rich Ruohonen, Nick Myers, John Benson, Pete Annis, Tom O'Connor
Troy Schroeder, Bill Todhunter, Greg Johnson, Sean Silver
Jason Larway, Wes Johnson, Brady Clark, Joel Larway
Greg Eigner, Derek Surka, Scott Price, Tim Ho
Todd Birr, Doug Pottinger, Kevin Birr, Pete Westberg
Brown vs. Barcome, Larway vs. Ruohonen, Pustovar vs. Birr, Fenson vs. Eigner,
Disher vs. Schroeder
Birr vs. Disher, Schroeder vs. Brown, Eigner vs. Larway, Ruohonen vs. Pustovar,
Barcome vs. Fenson
Jessica Schultz, Jamie Johnson, Courtney George, Maureen Brunt, Cassie Johnson
Aileen Sormunen, Christina Schwartz, Amanda Jenson, Amanda McLean
Cristin Clark, Charrissa Lin, Tanya Jacobson, Mary McHugh
Patti Lank, Caitlin Maroldo, Ann Swisshelm Silver, Chrissy Haase
Norma O'Leary, Becky Dobie, Nicole Vorachek, Patti Luke
Margie Smith, Theresa Faltesek, Stephanie Roland, Nicole Annis
Amy Wright, Sarah Lehman, Monica Matson, Mary Shields Johnson
Debbie McCormick, Allison Pottinger, Nicole Joraanstad, Tracy Sachtjen, Natalie Nicholson
Clark vs. McCormick, Wright vs. Sormunen, O'Leary vs. Lank, Smith vs. Schultz