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Fenson rallies to win 7th national title

Ryan Brunt, left, and Joe Polo look toward the scoring area as they move the stone for Team Fenson during the men's championship game of the USA Curling Nationals Saturday at Scheels Arena in Fargo. Pioneer Photo/Dave Wallis, Forum Communications Co.

Team USA will have a familiar face at the upcoming world championship as Pete Fenson of Bemidji defended his team title with an extra end steal against Tyler George Saturday to finish the week-long competition with a perfect 11-0 record at the 2011 National Championships in Fargo.

In the women's division the Allison Pottinger rink, which includes Natalie Nicholson of Bemidji, came up short in its bid for the national championship as Patti Lank stopped Pottinger 9-4 in Saturday's gold-medal game in Fargo.

The national title was Fenson's seventh overall and second in a row. The rink, which includes Shawn Rojeski of Chisholm, Joe Polo of Duluth and Ryan Brunt of Bemidji, will represent the U.S. at the 2011 World Men's Championship in Regina, Saskatchewan, April 2-10. By winning his seventh overall title, Fenson is now tied with 1976 world champion Bruce Roberts for the most U.S. titles as a skip with five.

"It always feels good," Fenson said. "This victory was sweet. We had to hang in there until the last shot."

This is the fifth title for Rojeski, fourth for Polo and first for Brunt (all with Fenson as their skip). "It feels great," Polo said. "This is my fourth one, and I am really excited and can't wait to go to worlds."

Fenson is the first skip to win back-to-back titles since he last accomplished the feat in 2006 and 2005 but this year's title didn't come easy.

"It's tough to come in as the defending champions," Polo said. "It's like we have a bulls-eye on our back. We seemed to have an off game, but we pulled it out in the end."

Fenson was in unfamiliar territory throughout most of the match against George and just barely scored a single in the 10th to force an extra end. In the 11th, George tried to come around the guards in the top of the house and bury his stone in the four-foot with his first throw but came up just short of the rings. Fenson, the 2006 Olympic bronze medalist, sealed the win with a perfect draw to the four-foot that George could not best with his final throw.

Fenson was forced to a single in the first end and after a few miscues by Team Fenson, George had control of the game.

Team George had the defending champions in a jam in the third end as Fenson wasn't quite as sharp as he'd been all week with his final two stones. Fenson's first rock was a long raise attempt that didn't do anything to help the team's cause. The second was a draw through a port to the button that was left hanging open in the four-foot, leaving George to follow him down to score three.

A double takeout by Rojeski in the fourth end paved the way to a deuce.

George's team had Fenson on the ropes again in the fifth end as Polo and Rojeski tried in earnest to convert cross-house double takeouts without success. It wasn't until Plys rolled out on his takeout that the end turned in favor of Fenson when George could only answer with a single.

In the eighth end, Fenson had a chance for two but came out just a tad heavy while drawing into the four-foot and nudged his second stone in the back of the four-foot into third scoring position.

In the ninth end George scored one to take a 5-4 lead. The 10th end saw Fenson's team staring at three George stones but Fenson managed to make a takeout to tie the game 5-5 and force one more end to try to defend the title.

George was down to 30 seconds on his time-clock when he threw his final stone in the 11th that halted his attempt to win his first national title as a skip.

Patti Lank, of New York, and teammates Caitlin Maroldo, Jessica Schultz and Mackenzie Lank, will represent the United States at the 2011 World Women's Championship next month in Denmark.

"I think this one is special because I've been working with these girls for so long, and for Cait, this is her first time and she's been working so hard," said Lank, who won titles in 2004, 2002, 1999 and 1997. "It feels good not to be crying after a game because I'm sad. These are happy tears."

Lank finished runner-up the past three years and four other times since her first national championship appearance in 1994.

Nine-time U.S. champion and 2010 Olympian Allison Pottinger put the loss on her shoulders after the game.

"I played poorly. I missed some shots that you can't miss. Patti played really well," Pottinger said. "This was my first time skipping, and I'm proud of this team. They played really well all week."

Pottinger and teammates Nicole Joraanstad, Nicholson and Tabitha Peterson will now add silver to an impressive stack of medals won by this group of athletes in the past two decades at juniors and women's national and international events.

Team Lank made its presence known from the start as the skip made a double raise, double takeout to score two in the opening end.

Lank dominated the second end as well by getting two stones in the top of the eight-foot. Pottinger made a nose hit with her last rock, resulting in a steal of one for Lank.

After holding Pottinger to a single in the third end, Lank snuck to the button to score two and extend the lead to 5-1.

Pottinger struck for a deuce in the fifth to close the gap but Lank's team earned three more in the sixth. Pottinger needed a double takeout to score four in the seventh, but the second stone she was trying to remove didn't make it out of the four-foot and Lank stole one more point to extend the lead to 9-3.

In the eighth end Lank nearly converted a triple takeout but moved the third stone to the back of the house to keep Pottinger chasing. With her final stone Pottinger wrecked on a stone in the top of the house as she tried to draw for two points. With the result just being a single for Pottinger, the match was conceded.

U.S. National Curling Championships

Men's Division

Fenson 100 200 010 11 - 6

George 003 010 001 00 - 5

Women's Division

Lank 210 203 10x x - 9

Pottinger 001 020 01x x - 4