BEMIDJI -- Bemidji native Joe Polo and teammate Tabitha Peterson of Minneapolis made themselves feel right at home this weekend, claiming the 2020 USA Curling Mixed Doubles National Championship with a 7-4 victory over John Shuster (Superior, Wis.) and Cory Christensen (Duluth) in Sunday afternoon’s gold-medal final at the Bemidji Curling Club.
“We came out and just made a bunch of shots and put a little bit of pressure on the other team, and got a few breaks along the way,” said Polo, who now resides in the Duluth area. “That’s kind of how it goes with this game. It’s a really tricky game with a lot of rocks in play. You can miss one by an inch and it really hurts you.”
“Joe’s draw weight especially was really on point,” Peterson added. “I made a few really good hits. Draws are really important in mixed doubles, and also capitalizing on the other team’s misses, because there’s only five rocks being thrown. One miss can really set you back.”
The win delivered Peterson and Polo their second mixed doubles national title to go along with their 2016 crown. The duo dispatched Christensen and Shuster, the defending champions in the event, to punch their tickets to represent the U.S. at the 2020 World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship this April in Kelowna, British Columbia.
The teammates brought home bronze from their world championship appearance four years ago. Peterson had also already qualified for the 2020 World Women’s Curling Championship after skipping her team to a national title two weeks ago.
“Together Joe and I were there in 2016, so to be back four years later, it’ll be really really fun,” Peterson said. “We’ll see what we can do out there.”
For Polo, Sunday marked the second time he’d captured a national title at the club where he first honed his skills. He’d previously earned the 2006 men’s national title in Bemidji when he was teammates with Shuster.
“It was fun with all the old friends that we know from the area,” Polo said. “Having everybody behind us, it was really great.”
Peterson and Polo took the long way to the final, needing a win in the tiebreaker match Saturday afternoon to advance to the playoffs. A 10-7 quarterfinal win landed them in Sunday morning’s semifinals where they topped Sarah Anderson (Minneapolis) and Korey Dropkin (Duluth) 8-5. Christensen/Shuster defeated Monica Walker (Brighton, Mass.) and Alex Leichter (Boston) 9-6 in the other semifinal.
In the final, Peterson/Polo got off to a 1-0 start and then stole two in the second end to take a 3-0 lead. A trio of rocks were cleared out of the four-foot by Polo to hold Christensen/Shuster to one point in the third end. In the fourth end, Polo’s draw to the house settled onto the button to score three and take a commanding 6-1 lead.
Christensen/Shuster picked up two after a takeout in the fifth end to narrow the deficit before Peterson/Polo removed a yellow rock in the sixth to extend their lead by one.
Christensen/Shuster drew for one on the edge of the button in the seventh end, though it took a measurement for their point to be confirmed. The defending champions needed three in the eighth and final end, but came up short as they conceded the 7-4 victory to Peterson and Polo.
“We’ve kind of just kept playing better and better each game as the week went on,” Peterson said. “It’s exciting to seal the deal in the final and play as well as we did.”
Anderson/Dropkin needed an extra end to win the bronze-medal match by a 7-6 score over Walker/Leichter. The top three teams from the weekend also clinched berths in next winter’s U.S. Olympic trials.
But first, Peterson and Polo will be off to Canada to represent their country on a world stage.
“It’s always great wearing USA on your back,” Polo said. “We’re excited to go back. It’s in British Columbia, which is a gorgeous region, so we’re excited for that, too.”