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Bemidji curler Natalie Nicholson earns spot on 2010 Oympics; Haluptzok falls just short

From left, Debbie McCormick, Allison Pottinger, Nicole Joraanstad and Natalie Nicholson have won the right to represent the United States in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

It was business as usual for Deb McCormick Saturday as the Wisconsin veteran, with Bemidji's Natalie Nicholson as lead, captured her fourth straight national curling title and qualified for her third Winter Olympics in the process.

It came at the Olympic Team Trials at Broomfield, Colo., a Denver suburb.

John Shuster won then "Battle of Duluth" to claim his first, scoring a 10-9 win over fellow Duluth curling club member Tyler George.

Bemidji's Mark Haluptzok curled lead for the George rink.

McCormick never trailed but needed two in the 10th to cement an 8-5 win over Patti Lank in a match of tournament veterans.

McCormick, then Debbie Henry, played second on the Lisa Schoeneberg rink at the 1998 Olympics and was vice skip on Bemidji's Kari Erickson rink with Erickson and her sister Stacy Liapis as key players.

McCormick lost in the finals of the 2006 Olympic Trials.

Nicole Joraanstad and Allison Pottinger complete the foursome, playing together for the fourth straight years after years of competing against one another.

McCormick broke a 1-1 tie with three in the third but saw Lank come back with two in the fourth to trail by one.

They traded single points in the fifth and sixth and again in the eighth and ninth with McCormick taking a 6-5 lead to the tenth with the hammer.

It proved decisive as the champs ran home the final two points to close out the victory .

Nicholson paced the team with a 90 percent shooting rating. McCormick ended at 84 with Joraanstad at 81 and Pottinger 80.

No one on Lank's rink topped 75 with Lank rated at 70.

McCormick had won the round robin with an 8-1 record and beat Amy Wright 9-4 in the 1-2 playoff. Lank, who lost the tiebreaker with Wright for the second place berth, beat the same opponent for in the semifinals to gain the title match.

McCormick and Pottinger became teammates in 2003 and were joined by Nicholson and Joraanstad after the 2006 Olympics.

The foursome then went on to capture the past three national titles and advance to the World Championships.

McCormick won the world title in 2003 and bowed in the final in 2005 and 2006.

Lank 101-201-001-0---5 McCormick 103-010-010-2---8

Shuster, the lead on the Pete Fenson Olympic team in 2006, rallied for three points in the ninth to overcome an 8-7 deficit and hold off George at the end.

George hit three in the third to go ahead 4-1 only to see Shuster come back with four in the fourth to reclaim the lead.

It was 6-4 when George scored three in the sixth to go back in front 7-6 and the pair traded single points in the seventh and eighth.

But Shuster's three in the ninth which told the tale. Each team graded out at 76 percent with Shuster hitting 75 to 67 for George. Haluptzok finished at 79.

Shuster 010-410-103-0---10

George 103-003-010-1--- 9

Shuster reached the final Friday night with a 10-4 win over defending champion Todd Birr.

The match drew a meethigh record crowd of 2,000.

Shuster played lead on Bemidji's Pete Fenson rink at then 2,006 Olympics.

Shuster didn't miss many shots in disposing of Birr, taking a 2-0 lead in the second and laying four in the fourth to go ahead 6-1.

Birr got back two in the fifth after Shuster missed a run back,.

The teams exchanged single points in the sixth and seventh before Shuster wrapped up the win with three in the eighth.

The win set up an all-Duluth final with both skips members of the Duluth Curling Club.

George defeated Shuster twice, 9-2 in the round robin and 6-5 in the 1-2 playoff.

Birr 001-020-10--- 4 Shuster 020-401-03---10

The women's World Championships will take place at Gangneung, Korea March 21-29.

The Men's Championships will be played at Moncton, N.B. April 4-12.