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Bemidji hosting curling event for third time

Bemidji is playing host to the USA Curling National Junior Championships for the third time. The event also was held here in 1991 and 2000.

Ironically, Bemidji won the men's title in both years, with the Eric Fenson rink topping the field in 1991 and the Randy Baird foursome in 2000.

Ten men's and 10 women's teams will compete for the titles. Last year, Duluth's Chris Plys won the men's title for the fourth straight year and Alex Carlson of Wayzata, Minn., won the women's crown.

Plys has outgrown the junior ranks, so there will be a new men's champ this year. Carlson is back to defend her title.

The national champions will advance to the World Championships March 5-14 in Flims, Switzerland.

Carlson led her team to a fifth-place finish at Worlds at Vancouver lat year. Plys won the bronze last year after claiming the 2008 World title.

Action will begin tonight at 7 following the opening ceremony at 5.

The opening men's draw will take pace tonight, with the women's play beginning tomorrow at 8 a.m. Four draws will be held each day through Thursday noon with tiebreakers that afternoon and evening and the page playoffs set for Friday.

The women's win final is Saturday at 10 a.m. with the men's championship at 1:30. p.m.

Many veteran rinks are back from last year, with a few rookies joining the pack.

Last year's runner-up Aaron Wald of Chisholm, with Bemidji's Josh Bahr curling third, looks to move up a step to the national title this time around.

Last year's playoff teams skipped by Sean Beighton of Edmonds, Wash., and Blake Morton of MacFarland, Wis. also look to improve.

Morton also has qualified for the 2010 Men's Nationals and would have to make a decision, if he wins the junior title, on whether to compete at the World Juniors or the men's nationals at Kalamazoo, Mich., which will be held the same week.

On the women's side, in addition to Carlson's defending champions, 2008 U.S. Junior bronze medalist Miranda Solem of Cohasset and Wisconsin's Becca Hamilton, with three members of the 2008 junior national gold medal team, could make a run at the title.

Bemidjians will have a local interest in two men's teams.

In addition to the Wald rink, Bemidji will enter a local team skipped by Trevor Andrews that includes Aaron Tasa, Nic Wagner and Mark Fenner of Bemidji and Ben Wilson of Hibbing.

Jared Zezel and John Muller of Hibbing round out the Wald rink.

Wisconsin will have three rinks while Alaska, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota have one.

The Carlson rink is also completed of Tabitha Peterson and Tara Peterson of Eagan and Sophie Brorson of Duluth.

The Solem foursome has Alex Scheiber of Portage, Wis., Julie Lilla of Trempeleau, Wis. and Chelsea Solem of Cohasset.

Two teams are also entered from North Dakota, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, with single units from Alaska and New York.

Bemidji history

Bemidji has had a long, successful history in the junior event.

The men's tourney began in 1974. Bemidji has produced national champs in 1991 with Eric Fenson; in 1992 with Shawn Rojeski, Kevin Bergstrom and Ted McCann; again in 1997 with the Matt Stevens rink, which included Craig Brown, Bob Liapis and Jeremy Fogelson; and the Randy Baird rink in 2000 with Phil Drone, Chase Jackson and Cody Stevens.

The Stevens rink will curl in the men's nationals this year with Cody Stevens joining his brother, Liapis and Jeff Breyen.

And Rojeski is a longtime third on the Pete Fenson rink with Joe Polo and Tyler George, which also made the men's meet.

The Eric Fenson rink tied for the bronze at Worlds in 1991 and the Stevens rink took the bronze at Worlds in 1999 at Nagano, Japan.

Women's success

The Bemidji women have had even more success, winning nine national titles since that meet began in 1987.

Kari Liapis skipped the 1990 titlists with her sister Stacey, Heidi Rollheiser and Bobbie Breyen.

Erika Brown skipped the 1992 champions with the Liapis sisters and Breyen joined by Debbie Holm. They went on to claim silver at Worlds. That rink, with Holm the fourth member replacing Breyen, repeated in 1993 and tied Denmark for the bronze.

The Risa O'Connell rink won the 1995 crown with Missi O'Connell, Natalie Simenson and Allie Naylor making up the foursome. The team repeated in 1997 with the O'Connells, Amy Baker and Simenson.

The Hope Schmitt foursome took the 1998 and 1999 titles, with Nikki Baird, Katie Schmitt and Teresa Bahr rounding out the cast.

The Cassie Johnson rink won the 2002 and 2003 championships with Jamie Johnson, Rebecca Dobie and Maureen Brunt on the first team and Katie Beck replacing Jamie Johnson in 2003.

Bemidji will be looking to break a nine-year gap in the men's division.