A turning point for junior curlers at World Mixed Championship

  • Scotland at the World Mixed Curling Championship © WCF / Jeffrey Au

It was only seven months ago that four Scottish curlers found themselves on the ice not far from home. Aberdeen, Scotland hosted the World Junior Curling Championship 2018 and it was there that Robin Brydone, Ross Whyte, Rebecca Morrison and Leeanne McKenzie represented their home country.

Skipping for the first time on a world junior team, Whyte led the men’s team to a second-place finish in Aberdeen. They stole a single point in the tenth end of the final to tie the game, but it was the Canadians who secured the first-place finish with one point in the extra end.

Wins and losses aside, it was this championship that signaled an end to junior curling for Brydone and Morrison. Whyte and McKenzie have a few years left collectively, but it’s on to men’s and women’s ranks for the former.

After three years of playing in the World Junior Championships, Brydone reflects on the transition into men’s play.

“This is a good step going forward. A different experience for myself, being a skip here [in Kelowna] gives me a bit more experience in other positions and hopefully we can take some things from it,” he says.

Big picture goals look like the Olympics, but for the time being it’s about the move from curling against other juniors to playing the game with new countries, new opponents and a new feel.

“Everyone is quite friendly and talkative to each other. That’s different,” says vice-skip Rebecca Morrison. She adds that playing with boys rather than the usual female squad makes for a fresh event.

“It’s quite good to play with the guys because they’ve got a lot of experience,” she adds.

Brydone tends to agree, saying he’s, “usually around four guys all the time, so the banter is a wee bit different.”

Thus, playing together isn’t just about making shots, it continues to be a learning experience. After all, Whyte and Brydone have played in two and three world junior experiences respectively, so moving from juniors to mixed and on to other league games this winter seems like a natural transition.

The Scots aren’t the only ones at the World Mixed Championship who come with junior experience. Hungarian Doryotta Palancsa and teammate Henrietta Miklai made an appearance at the 2016 World Juniors, placing fourth.

Palancsa’s time as a junior followed a slightly different path than that of many young curlers: by the time she was 20 she had won two world championships in mixed doubles, a Hungarian national championship and played on a women’s team. In fact, Palancsa and Miklai grew up playing together and have kept the same women’s team throughout juniors and into women’s play.

For Palancsa, exposure at opportunities like the World Mixed and Mixed Doubles meant higher levels of play at an earlier age. This is something that she says makes it “easier to make good decisions and play well in the women’s league now.”

From Italy, Lorenzo Maurino and Davide Forchino also competed at the World Juniors in PyeongChang in 2017. Forchino recalls his experience in South Korea as a “totally new world.”

“It was incredible to see that level of play” he adds.

Playing now in Kelowna, Forchino says that it’s a “completely different tournament [and] is the most competitive” he’s ever played. The Italian team itself is brand new, having played together for only one year.

Semiha Konuksever of Turkey also played at the World Juniors in 2016, finishing in eighth place. This is her second World Mixed Championship appearance, as Turkey tied for a fifth place finish last year in Champéry, Switzerland.

She adds that 2016 “was their first junior championship” despite dropping down to the B level. The Turkish team was able to bounce back both in 2017 and in 2018, making it past Junior-B rounds and into the championship both years.

For the Scottish team and other junior athletes, the consensus moving forward is that these World Mixed Championship serve as a stepping stone to higher levels of play. If these athletes and their numerous accolades are any indication of the suggested movement to the big leagues, then this is a championship worth paying close attention to.
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By feature writer, Katie Maryschuk
All photos © WCF / Jeffrey Au