Day One (Love Out Loud)

This is the first chapter of my new book, “Love Out Loud”. It takes place at a Lutheran college that was born from the ashes caused by a schism involving Concordia University-Wisconsin’s Board of Regents, Faculty Senate, and Student Government Association. The new college, Trinity Lutheran University, is a combination of the former Carthage College and the students, faculty, and staff from Concordia who chose to stay following the moving of the college with its sister campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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The first day of campus life for Trinity Lutheran University started bright and early as the Class of 2022 began arriving at 8am to move into their dorms and get acquainted with campus before the school’s opening service for freshmen and athletes at 4pm. Erin Matheson, a women’s lacrosse player coming to TLU from Rockford, MI, was unloading her parents’ minivan when the school’s chaplain, Deacon Marc Schmidt, and his wife Danielle joined them.

Marc: Jim, Val, I see all of you made it here safely. You should have called us if you were going to be in town a day early. We could have gone out to dinner, the five of us.

Jim: We got in about 9:00 last night because I was needed at the museum in the afternoon and couldn’t pass the task off to another curator.

Danielle: How is the bouncing, baby freshman doing today?

Erin: Good as can be. I don’t know anybody here but you and Mr. Slick, but I hear that there will be a LOT of my teammates coming today.

Marc: I think I heard your team has 18 freshmen out of the 24 on the roster. Since athletes get to move in early, I’m guessing all 24 of you will be here by the end of the day. Have you seen your schedule for this evening’s beginning of orientation?

Erin: We have a team meeting that will run from 7-7:30, then “bonding time” from 7:30-10pm. Us athletes are exempted from the hall meeting tonight, but will have to schedule in a time to meet with our hall director before classes start on Monday.

Marc: I need to get back to my office to work on this afternoon’s opening service. Erin, stop by after you get moved in and settled. We’ll do lunch together and I can give you some of the low-down on campus and what I’ve learned in my first month or so up here.

Marc gave Erin a hug, which was reciprocated along with a peck on the cheek. Marc kissed his wife goodbye and waved at Jim and Val before heading over to Luther Hall and returning to work on his first worship service as Trinity Lutheran University’s chaplain.

***

Around 11:30, Erin stopped into Marc’s office in Luther Hall.

Erin: Is the chaplain in?

Marc: For most people, no, but for you, yes. Take a seat.

Erin sat down and looked around Marc’s place of work, taking in the combination of religious and sports artifacts.

Erin: If I hadn’t seen the proof, I wouldn’t believe that you had done all that you have.

Marc: It’s been an interesting life, I can tell you that. From my time at Drake to Ball State and Western Michigan, where Danielle and I met your parents, and onward to Buffalo and building my own soccer club before going into coaching education and getting through my diaconal coursework, everything has helped me get to this point, and I wouldn’t change anything that has happened. Well, maybe one thing. I wish my dad had been able to see me achieve all of this. Then again, if he were still with us, most of this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Erin: Did you think you’d be here a year ago when I decided to apply for admission?

Marc: In reality, no. I didn’t know that the position here would be vacant or that I’d be asked to take it on after being consecrated. Things just fell together the way they were meant to. I get to do what I’ve always wanted, which is campus ministry in a setting where my previous experience in student affairs and athletics can be a help to both the professionals and the students.

Erin: Ready for lunch?

Marc: Just let me get this last sentence written for my homily and then I’ll be set.

Marc finished up and then the two of them walked over to Albrecht for lunch at Luther’s Landing, comprised of six different mini-restaurants in a food court style setting. The pair went to their preferred counters, as Erin got a sandwich and salad from Express Deli and Marc a burger and fries from the Original Burger Company. While getting condiments for his food, Marc ran into someone from his past.

Marc: Danielle?

Danielle Dillon: Marc. Funny seeing you up in this part of the world.

Marc: Yeah. Took a job here about six weeks ago. Still getting my feet under me. I thought you were teaching elementary school.

Danielle: I was, but when Trinity advertised for a full-time assistant coach, I thought “what the heck” and put in my application. Guess the athletic director liked what he saw, as I got hired.

Marc: Congrats. You’ve always had the ability and confidence. Just needed the opportunity to show it.

Danielle: It didn’t hurt that I took a coaching seminar last year as part of my continuing education in the district. A local coach developed a module for current and future coaches to learn the ins-and-outs of athletic administration as well as the hurdles athletes face away from the field and issues that schools and coaches face.

Marc: Seems to have helped you land the gig here.

Danielle: So what have you been up to since we last saw each other?

Marc: After I shut the club down, I took a little time off before figuring out what I wanted to do next. I couldn’t really find a next chapter until after I was hospitalized a couple of years ago for anxiety and depression. Once my psychiatrist got my medication straightened out, I got into coaching education, developing the module you mentioned.

Danielle: That was your creation?!

Marc: Yep. 100% my own thinking on how best to get female coaches on equal footing with the inside track that men seem to always be on when it comes to knowing people in the business and informal mentoring.

Danielle: I know you’re not in the athletic department here, so where do you work on campus?

Marc: Luther Hall. I am the school’s chaplain.

Danielle: Noooooooooo……..

Marc: Yes. I was set to go to seminary about 15 years ago, but my synodical candidacy committee denied me entrance due to debt racked up getting my two master’s degrees. During my sabbatical from soccer, I started the local synod’s diaconate education program. I was consecrated as a deacon in June and was asked, based on my past experience in campus ministry and student affairs, to take on the position here when Carthage’s campus pastor chose not to re-locate for the job.

Danielle: I better eat or I’ll be late for our coaches’ meeting at 1. No second training today because of the team meeting this evening following dinner.

Marc: I need to get truckin’ or my goddaughter Erin will wonder where I got off to. Great seeing you again. Still as button-cute as I remember. Maybe we can do lunch sometime and you can fill me in on what’s happened with you in the last three years. Opening service for freshmen and athletes is at 4 in Bonhoeffer Chapel in case you’re interested.

Danielle smiled at Marc as they parted and he found Erin.

Erin: How long could a burger and fries take to be made?

Marc: I ran into a former player of mine from MUSC. She’s the assistant women’s soccer coach here.

Erin: Cool. You’ll have to introduce me to her at some point.

Marc: I think I can do that at the All-Sports Mixer on Wednesday. Have you met your roommate yet?

Erin: No. She was at practice. I’ll hopefully see her when I get back to my room. What time is service again?

Marc: 4:00. It will be VERY similar to what you’re used to in your home congregation.

Erin: I should get back to see if roomie is around and to maybe meet some of my teammates.

Erin left Albrecht and went back to Augsburg to try and make a few friends before orientation started tonight.

***

Erin unlocked the door to her room and saw her roommate watching television.

Cassie Kingston: You must be Erin.

Cassie stood up and greeted her roommate with a handshake.

Erin: You’re Cassie, then. Cute boyfriend you have.

Cassie: Thanks. We’ve been together three years now. He’s playing soccer at St. Thomas up in the Twin Cities.

Erin: Is that where you’re from?

Cassie: Yes, Woodbury to be exact. You?

Erin: Rockford, MI, about ten miles northeast of Grand Rapids.

Cassie: What are you majoring in?

Erin: Management. Yourself?

Cassie: Marketing.

Erin: I know you’re an athlete since you were already moved in when I got here this morning. What sport?

Cassie: Soccer. I’m a defender.

Erin: I play lacrosse. Defender as well.

Cassie: I’m not sure how our team will do this year. We have 14 freshmen out of 20 spots on the team.

Erin: My uncle told me that we had 18 freshmen among our 24-player roster. He also ran into your assistant coach while we are at lunch earlier.

Cassie: Danielle? She’s a cutie. Of course, I don’t swing that way.

Erin: It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Cassie: So you do?

Erin: Yes and no. Yes as in I THINK I do, but no in terms of any experience dating one.

Cassie: You know that women’s sports tends to be a fertile ground for them. Maybe you’ll get lucky and one of your teammates will be an option.

Erin: I’m not TOO eager to jump someone at the moment. Just want to get to know people here. Being from out of state, it’s a little intimidating knowing no one right now.

Cassie: I guess being in a spring sport puts you at a disadvantage in that department versus the fall sport athletes. We had a ready-made group of friends when we came to campus two weeks ago.

Erin heard some commotion and went into the hall to check it out. She saw a few of the women on her floor running toward the stairwell and then through the door to go downstairs. When the person chasing all of them ran past her, she walked behind her and looked her over. Erin saw that her back was chiseled as the muscles poked around the areas that her t-back sport bra didn’t cover. She also noticed a tattoo on a good portion of her right arm. She knew that the mystery woman was at least a couple of inches taller than her 5’7″ self and that her backside was smokin’ in her yoga pants. Erin felt a little funny and thought to herself, “They sure don’t grow them like THAT where I’m from.” Her stomach turned over and, once her dorm mate turned around and Erin saw her magnetic smile and piercing eyes, she quickly thought about what to say as she came walking back down the hall.

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Wrap It Up

Erin got a hold of Alexandra (Ali) Stephens on Monday afternoon and they planned to meet Saturday morning prior to Concordia-Wisconsin’s game with Concordia-Chicago. Ali arrived on campus about 9:00 and Erin was waiting for her outside Augsburg.

Erin: You’re Ali, I take it.

Ali: Yes.

Erin: Pleased to meet you. How was the trip up from Stallis?

Ali: It was pretty calm, since it’s early on a Saturday. I didn’t think you were from around here since your bio on the CUW website claims you’re from Michigan.

Erin: My uncle was born-and-raised in Milwaukee, so he’s taught me a lot of the lingo, like Stallis, bubbler, Tosa, OG, Tyme machine, KK, and The Valley.

Ali: Cool. I’ll have to meet him sometime.

Erin: So behind me is my dorm, Augsburg Hall. A lot of athletes live here, but they tend to get paired with non-athletes so they get a more general experience.

Ali: I’m going to be commuting.

Erin: One of my teammates does that. Works out OK for her, but I think you miss a little something doing that. That’s just me.

Erin starts taking Ali around campus, helping her to familiarize herself with the layout and where things are located.

Ali: Lindsey said that you played lacrosse when I talked to her on Tuesday.

Erin: Yes. I’m a defender, usually on the left side although sometimes I play in the center if our coach pulls one of our forwards back to better protect our goalkeeper. Your coach told me you were supposed to be going to UW-Milwaukee before your knee injury. Why did you decide to come here instead?

Ali: I originally wanted to come here, but my parents were being a bit difficult about it since I’m the baby of three and they paid for private school for the other two. They felt that since I had the talent to get some level of athletic scholarship, I should pursue that and keep my tuition bill down.

Erin: Understandable.

Ali: I turned 18 early in the school year, so I was apply here for admission without needing their signatures. Same went for the FAFSA and the Luther Promise scholarship.

Erin: I’m here on that. How do you qualify?

Ali: My father graduated from Concordia-New York before moving west and meeting my mom. This was another place where they were wrong. They thought that for me to be eligible for the Luther Promise, he had to have graduated from either here or Ann Arbor, but that criteria applies to any of the ten colleges in the Concordia system.

Erin: Smart cookie, you are. I can see that you’ll fit in around these parts rather well since you’re definitely industrious. What is your planned major?

Ali: Exercise Physiology. I thought about the Athletic Training program, but I didn’t want to spend five years in school.

Erin: One of our team’s incoming freshmen is an Athletic Training major. We also have a Phy Ed major on the team, a Human Biology major, and another incoming freshman doing Occupational Therapy. I’m sure you’ll probably cross paths with them in some of your courses, especially Jocelyn and Natalie since all three of your majors are housed in the same department.

Ali: What’s the dating life around here?

Erin: If you’re asking about the pickings at the school, I guess I’d call them no different than what you’d experience elsewhere. A lot of undercover nervous and shy types who never had to work up the courage to start something because they were always with the popular kids or the jocks or the pretty folk and people just flocked to them. If you want to find someone, you can, but you also have to come out of your shell a little to do so. Two of my teammates have been crushing on each other for more than a year and they STILL haven’t gotten together because neither one of them knows how to step forward and let the other one know they are interested. I’m a bit of a firebrand when it comes to those two, and so help me they WILL be with each other before school starts in August, even if I have to lock them in a closet and make them confess their feelings for each other like the US Women’s National Team tends to do when crushes start to form among the players.

Ali: Do you follow NWSL at all?

Erin: Not as much as Natalie or Shannon, the two teammates I mentioned, or my uncle Marc, who used to work in women’s soccer before starting his women’s coaching seminar. I’ll get weekly updates from him during the season, so I’m informed enough to carrying on a conversation with him or Natalie about what’s happening in the league.

Ali: I’ll have to pick your brains at some point. My parents got me tickets to the league final in Chicago in October. I hope the Red Stars make it.

Erin: They’re looking good from the West and they won the Hollywood Studios Cup in the preseason, but once Press goes back to LA, I’d expect them to be a serious challenger. As for the East, my girls are pumping hard for Boston because they made a lot of positive moves in the last year to shore up their defensive deficiencies and their 2017 rookie class is finally mature enough at the pro level to consistently score. Plus the Breakers have their mutual fangirl crush now.

Ali: You know your stuff.

Erin takes Ali to the dining hall, where they meet up with Heather for lunch. Afterwards, the two non-athletes walked over to Fitting Field and Erin went to the Athletic Center to suit up for the game against the Cougars.

Ali: How long have you and Erin been roommates?

Heather: Just this year. I roomed with my older sister my freshman year, then she moved off-campus.

Ali: Are the two of you planning to room together again next year?

Heather: That is a little up in the air. The two of us and our friend Natalie are trying to get a place off-campus, preferably the one my sister is in now, but one of her housemates hasn’t decided if she is moving or not. My mom has thought about buying the place outright, but I haven’t talked to her in a couple of weeks so I’m not sure what the status of that is.

Ali: Erin said dating around here can be a little tricky if you’re not that outgoing.

Heather: That’s somewhat true. Luckily, I met a guy back home who’s best friends with Erin’s boyfriend, so I’ve been able to avoid the pool here I guess.

Ali: Do non-athletes have a chance with the jocks around here? I was scheduled to play soccer at UW-Milwaukee until I blew my knee out again. The only guys I’ve dated have been athletes, so I really don’t know how to find a boyfriend in the general population.

Heather: It can happen, but they tend to stick among themselves. Your best bet is to pal up with an athlete, who then can introduce you to their circle in the athletic department.

Ali: I’m majoring in Exercise Physiology, so perhaps I’ll find other athletes in my classes.

Heather: Probably an easier way to accomplish that goal than snooping about Buuck looking for someone.

Warm-ups have concluded and the Falcons get off to an early 4-0 lead on their Windy City opponent. Kristen’s classmate Deanna Brodie, a member of the school’s cross-country team, has come to watch her play with her roommate, Miranda. After the game, they plan to work on a project for their English 104 course. Deanna looks down toward Heather and Ali and cracks a small smile at the sight of the diminutive incoming freshman, thinking that she looks pretty cute. Ali stretches her neck and looks back in the stands. She becomes mesmerized by Deanna’s hazel eyes, as though they were looking right through her. Ali blushes and looks away, then whispers to Heather, “Do you know who that girl above us is?”

Heather: Not really. I know she is friends with one of the freshmen on the team, but we haven’t been introduced.

Ali: She keeps looking over here, and for some reason I can’t keep from looking back.

Heather: Have you ever crushed on a girl before?

Ali: I don’t think so. I notice when girls are hot or whatever, but they don’t trigger anything in me that I’d call attraction.

Heather: Stick around after the game. Maybe we can figure out who she knows and perhaps get the two of you acquainted.

Ali: I don’t know. Maybe that’s not such a good idea. I wouldn’t know what to say to her.

Heather: You’re probably right. You’ll be a student here soon enough and have a better chance of getting to know her then.

The Falcons lead at halftime, 13-5. The second half is played more evenly between the two teams, with Concordia-Wisconsin winning 20-13 and finishing the conference season 6-2. They will travel to Lake Forest next weekend for the conference tournament, opening up on Friday against Aurora.

After the players have showered and changed, Erin, Natalie, and Shannon come out and meet up with Heather and Ali, while Kristen and Deanna walk back to Augsburg to work on their writing project. Ali still can’t take her eyes off of Deanna, admiring her sleek runner’s frame and remembering those piercing eyes of hers. Ali says goodbye to Erin and her teammates, then finds her car and drives home. Erin moves quickly to get back to Augsburg so she can change before her parents arrive to pick her up for Marc’s 50th birthday party at O’Donoghue’s in Elm Grove.

The US Olympic Curling Trials Process: Where Three Equals Five and the Points Don’t Matter

The 2016-2017 curling season has come to a close for all but three teams in the United States (Jamie Sinclair and John Shuster will play in the Humptys Champions Cup next week, while Heath McCormick will be in St. Gallen, SUI this week for the European Masters). With that being the case, attention is now devoted to which teams will be part of the US Olympic Curling Trials this November in Omaha. The process by which teams gain entry takes most of the work out of the hands of the teams and rests it with a committee who can decide to use whatever criteria they want to choose the number and names of those teams. I will say at the outset that I disagree profusely with the process, but since this is how the field will be decided, I will present the case for the other contenders and let the reader decide who should/shouldn’t be in Omaha.

We start first with the direct entry criteria. In order for a team to gain an automatic berth to the Trials, they must either:

  1. Finish fifth or higher at the most recent World Curling Championship;
  2. Finish in the top 15 of the World Curling Tour Order of Merit (two-year point total) standings; or
  3. Finish in the top 15 of the WCT Order of Merit Year-to-Date standings

Team John Shuster and Team Nina Roth both qualified for the Trials by way of #1 (Shuster finishing fourth in Edmonton and Roth fifth in Beijing). As for #2, the closest unqualified teams were Craig Brown’s at 25th and Jamie Sinclair’s at 31st. #3 also looks to not render a qualification (Heath McCormick’s foursome ranks 19th, 23+ points behind the 15th position with two other teams competing in the event between them and 15th, while Sinclair is 28th). With only one team of each gender qualified directly to the Trials, a Trials Selection Committee will convene to choose which other teams will be included to fill out the field (minimum of two choices, maximum of four).

Because the field can be anywhere between three and five teams and the men’s and women’s competition do not have to have the same number of teams in them, determining how many and who should be included can be a tough question. On the men’s side, three teams currently reside in the top 30 of the WCT Year-to-Date standings (McCormick at 19th, Shuster at 20th, and Brown at 29th) and in my opinion should all be in Omaha. With two more possible selections (remember, the committee CAN stop here and go with just three), here are the 2016-2017 resumes of three teams that could be considered to fill one or both open spots:

Team A: 8-5 record against teams under consideration, 4 wins over top-20 YTD teams, winning percentage of .542.

Team B: 2-4 record against teams under consideration, 2 wins over top-20 YTD teams, winning percentage of .500.

Team C: 4-5 record against teams under consideration, 5-6 record against HPP teams, winning percentage of .600.

Which, if any of these teams, do you select?  A and C have better numbers than B, but are those numbers good enough in comparison to Shuster, Brown, and McCormick? I don’t think either team would be out of their depth in Omaha and given their performances at this year’s USA Nationals (3rd and 2nd, respectively) could challenge for the Olympic berth.

Now to the women. The only women’s team with a clear case for inclusion is Jamie Sinclair’s (USA Nationals champion, qualified for playoffs in eight events, 4 wins against potential Olympic opponents). Beyond that, selecting one or more teams to join Roth and Sinclair is difficult. As with the men, here are this year’s resumes of three contenders:

Team A: 4-1 record against teams under consideration, average finish of 67.5 (on a scale of 100, lowest result dropped).

Team B: 1-5 record against teams under consideration, 6-1 record against HPP teams, 3 wins against top-20 YTD teams.

Team C: 3-2 record against teams under consideration, 1 win over top-20 YTD teams, 2 semifinal appearances in WCT events.

Who do you choose? B is clearly better against the top teams in women’s curling (the 6-1 against the HPP teams stands out), but A is best of these three teams head-to-head and is more consistent in her results. I would invite both of these teams to Trials as their accomplishments show they are legitimate contenders for the Olympic berth. Unfortunately, I don’t believe one could justify adding Team C to the mix as their 0-6 record against Roth/Sinclair would seem to indicate that they would have trouble staying in contention after the first round-robin.

Click the links, shout at me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/backseatgaffer), and hopefully we will see USA Curling make selections that benefit the game in this country and provide incentive for teams to play the tour in the hopes of one day representing the US in international competition.

An Exercise of Convolution: The Canadian Olympic Trials Process in a Nutshell

As the 2016-2017 curling season comes to a close this month, all eyes are starting to focus on qualification for the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials. The WestJet Players’ Championship in Toronto will be the last opportunity for teams to pick up Canadian Tour Ranking System (CTRS) points in the hopes of gaining a direct berth to the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings (the fancy name for their Olympic Curling Trials) in December in Ottawa. The process for direct entry to the Trials seems fairly straight-forward on paper, but is riddled with convolution that would make even the sanest person wonder “who the heck came up with this?”. Break out your abacuses and lawyers-on-retainer as I explain.

Nine teams of each gender will compete at the Roar of the Rings. Seven teams gain direct entry by way of winning either the 2015 or 2016 Canada Cup (slots 1 and 3), the 2016 or 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (women) or Tim Hortons Brier (men) provided they make the podium at that year’s World Championship (slots 2 and 4), or by finishing first in the two-year (2015-2017) CTRS standings (slot 5) or first or second in the one-year (2016-2017) CTRS standings (slots 6 and 7). The remainder of the field on both sides will be determined at a pre-trials event in Summerside, PEI in early November with twelve teams competing for the final two spots. Looks pretty simple, right? Not so fast, as the four “events-based” direct entries were not collected by four different teams. On the women’s side, Rachel Homan won the 2015 Canada Cup and the 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (coupled with a gold at the World Championship) while 2016 STOH champion Chelsea Carey failed to medal at that year’s World Championship, thus not earning the entry. As for the men, Kevin Koe won both the 2015 Canada Cup and the 2016 Tim Hortons Brier (plus gold at the World Championship). 2017 Tim Hortons Brier winner Brad Gushue can secure his direct entry to the Trials by medaling at this week’s Ford Worlds. So how do those open spots (one or two for the men and two for the women) get filled? This is where Curling Canada has created much confusion. First, they determined that Carey’s position would be filled by the highest-ranked team in the 2015-2016 CTRS standings not already qualified, which was Jennifer Jones. Jones would go on to win the 2016 Canada Cup, thus leaving THAT direct spot unfilled. Logic would indicate that you put in the replacement teams AFTER you fill in all spots based on the prescribed qualification method (and the language used in the process documents would lead one to believe that would be the case, in that the replacements are the highest-ranked teams in the CTRS not already qualified). Curling Canada, however, states that they will fill in the spots IN ORDER (#1 through #7, with the replacement being slotted in even if they would have qualified in their own right through the one-year or two-year slots). Below are the direct entry positions 1) as they exist with duplicates, 2) as they exist with open spots in slots 1-4 filled in at the end, and 3) as they are to be filled with replacements slotted in order:

Women

  1. Homan, Jones, Jones, Homan, Homan, Homan, Jones.
  2. Homan, Jones, (Michelle Englot), (Tracy Fleury), Val Sweeting, Allison Flaxey, Casey Scheidegger.
  3. Homan, Jones, Flaxey, Sweeting, Carey, Scheidegger, Englot.

Men

  1. Koe, Koe, Reid Carruthers, Gushue, Gushue, Gushue, Carruthers.
  2. Koe, (Steve Laycock), Carruthers, Gushue, Mike McEwen, Brad Jacobs, John Epping.
  3. Koe, Gushue, Carruthers, Jacobs, McEwen, Epping, Laycock.

Not a WHOLE lot of difference (the same seven men qualify via methods 2 and 3, while there is only one change amongst the women), but going down to 5th on the two-year standings because the 3rd and 4th-ranked teams were slotted in as replacements for slots 3 and 4 and 5th to fill the one-year leader spot for the same reason when it could be done “cleaner” (meaning that the highest-ranked teams in each of those standings that did not qualify through Canada Cup or Scotties/Worlds would gain their entry via the CTRS slots) just seems a bit odd to me. Additionally, moving Gushue out of his “earned” spot into a replacement spot also looks goofy.

Dear Curling Canada: Clean up the language in your documents to say what you mean along with an explanation of its purpose and/or use a more transparent method of filling in the field when spots go unused. Also, please provide examples using current teams of how things would work if you get duplicate qualifications or, much like the Grand Slam of Curling does with regards to Humptys Champions Cup qualification, publish periodic updates to the field starting December 1 of the year preceding the Trials.

I’ve said my piece, now let me hear yours, either in the comments here or at @backseatgaffer.

US Curling Power Rankings – March 2, 2017

With USA Nationals in the rear-view mirror, we move onto the last portion of the 2016-2017 curling season. As mentioned last week, there is a bit of re-arranging in the rankings based on the results in Everett. Here we go:

Men

  1. John Shuster – Champion at USA Nationals, going 11-0 for the week. (PW: 3)
  2. Todd Birr – Finalist at USA Nationals; 6-3 in round-robin, then won the Page 3/4 game over Craig Brown and semifinal over Brady Clark. (PW: 4)
  3. Brady Clark – Semifinalist at USA Nationals, going 7-2 in round-robin to secure a spot in the Page 1/2 game. (PW: 5)
  4. Heath McCormick – Missed playoffs at USA Nationals. (PW: 1)
  5. Craig Brown – Made playoffs at USA Nationals. (PW: 2)
  6. Pete Fenson – Made tiebreaker at USA Nationals. (PW: 6)

Women

  1. Jamie Sinclair – Champion at USA Nationals, finishing 7-1 for the event. (PW: 3)
  2. Nina Roth – Finalist at USA Nationals; 5-2 in round-robin, won semifinal over Cassie Potter. (PW: 1)
  3. Cassie Potter – Semifinalist at USA Nationals; 5-2 in round-robin. (PW: 4)
  4. Cory Christensen – Missed playoffs at USA Nationals. (PW: 2)
  5. Jessica Schultz – Missed playoffs at USA Nationals. (PW: 6)

 

The World Curling Tour schedule is more or less completed, with only a couple of Grand Slam events and the European Masters left. Therefore, unless there is a major disparity in performance between Sinclair and Roth at the Champions Cup and the Women’s Worlds, these will be the final ranking positions for the season.

USA Nationals Review

The teams led by John Shuster and Jamie Sinclair were crowned USA Curling National champions on Saturday in Everett, WA, with Shuster defeating Todd Birr in the men’s final and Sinclair beating Nina Roth for the women’s title. My halftime report gave some insight as to what the trends looked like as round-robin was heading for the finish line, but there were still surprises that came from the final draws prior to the playoffs. Here is my wrap-up of the event.

HITS

  • Shuster and Potter.  I called these two teams the ones to watch in my preview of USA Nationals and neither one disappointed. Shuster ran through the field, posting a 9-0 round-robin record, then proceeded to dispatch defending national champion Brady Clark in the Page 1/2 game and Birr in the final to complete a perfect week. Team Potter got off to a 5-0 start and made the playoffs despite playing their last two matches short-handed due to illness.
  • BAD LOSSES. I stressed this concept in both the preview and the halftime update, and those pesky things upended the field. Craig Brown, despite beating Clark and incoming year-to-date points leader Heath McCormick, ended up in a tiebreaker with Pete Fenson because of losses to Hunter Clawson and Alex Leichter. Cory Christensen missed the playoffs altogether after losing her last two round-robin matches to bottom-half teams (this after defeating both Sinclair and Roth in earlier draws). Even though they hadn’t defeated another top-half team, McCormick was in the mix to make a tiebreaker until his loss in Draw 8 to Fenson.

CLOSE MISS

  • Brown and Christensen. I had declared both of these teams as my second choices should the favorites (McCormick and Roth) not end up winning the event, and both teams started round-robin at 4-1. Brown’s three-game skid that included the loss to Leichter and Christensen’s losses to Cora Farrell and Jessica Schultz ended up taking the shine off those predictions.

FLASHES

  • McCormick. I did not adequately factor in their gradual slide that started at the Canadian Open in the preview and continued to believe that they could “turn the corner” after their 1-3 start because the schedule was in their favor. In the end, the hole dug by the Draw 1 loss to Birr and subsequent losses to Shuster and Brown proved too big to climb out of even with a last half of round-robin that could have produced five straight wins (they went 3-2).
  • SINCLAIR! I completely missed on how this team would perform at Nationals, even ignoring reasonable opinions from other curling analysts (yes, I mean you, @suss2hyphens and your insistence that the Continental Cup did them a world of good) to justify my pre-conception that their inconsistency and lack of a “next level” result during the tour season (manifested by their losing to Roth, Christensen, and Potter at the US Open to miss the playoffs) would see them not make the podium in Everett. In the halftime report, I even poo-pooed their 3-0 start to a favorable schedule and had nearly started with their eulogy following the loss to Christensen in Draw 4. It was only after they beat Roth in Draw 5 that I began to give them credit, but still felt like they would lose to Potter in Draw 6 and possible stub their toe at the end to miss the playoffs. Jamie, Alex, Vicky, and Monica, I am very sorry for doubting your ability and hope you will not burn this column in effigy.

Shuster and Roth will be heading off to Worlds in the next few weeks as Team USA to attempt to secure enough placement points to get the US berths in the 2018 Winter Olympics. On the tour, Sinclair will be heading to the Humptys Champions Cup along with Shuster as a result of their wins. A new rankings will come out next week with some expected movement up and down the chart.

 

USA Nationals Halftime Review

With the USA Curling Nationals reaching the halfway point of round-robin play, some stories have come to the fore. On the men’s side, the 1-3 start by Year-To-Date points leader Heath McCormick has put the team’s playoff chances in peril. Meanwhile, Team John Shuster is 4-0 and showing that their improvement over the past three months is no fluke. For the women, the 3-0 start by Cassie Potter has given her team a leg up towards the playoffs while Jamie Sinclair is also at 3-0 ahead of matches against the other Team USA rinks today.

Let’s look back at the three things I mentioned in my Nationals preview on how to win the title and see how the teams are doing:

  • Form. Shuster and Potter were on good form heading into Everett and that doesn’t seem to be fading. On the other hand, McCormick’s team has slipped a little since the start of the year, beginning with a three-and-out at the Canadian Open and continuing with a quarterfinal appearance at the Golden Wrench in Phoenix. Something seems to be off and hopefully they can right the ship today with wins against a pair of down-table teams.
  • Luck. Luck on the ice is well and good, but the luck of the schedule seems to be playing itself out. Sinclair’s 3-0 has come against the bottom half of the table and now she will go on a gauntlet of matches today and tomorrow against Cory Christensen, Nina Roth, and Potter. Potter, on the other hand, has gotten over a pair of hurdles in her first three matches (a top-three win and a nervy match-up against Jessica Schultz in the opening draw) and has a less-daunting pair of fixtures today before closing against Sinclair and Roth. Christensen’s match with Sinclair wraps up her battles with the top half in the round-robin and she closes with three matches against teams in the bottom half of the standings. McCormick has four of his last five matches against teams with a collective 5-11 record (2-7 against the foursome of Shuster, Craig Brown, Brady Clark, and Todd Birr), while Brown will close the round-robin against a pair of teams that are both 1-3 thus far and Shuster finishes off with Clark and Birr (both 3-1).
  • NO BAD LOSSES. On the women’s side, there hasn’t been a bad loss to date (8-0 in top-half/bottom-half match-ups), and only two on the men’s side (Pete Fenson over Birr and Hunter Clawson over Brown) in 12 matches. Those two will surely tighten the field as the top half begins playing one another in round-robin, but there is no cause for alarm heading into today’s games.

So who makes the playoffs? For the men, it will be Shuster, Brown, McCormick (they’ll get the ship righted), and the winner of Clark and Birr. The women’s playoff field will be Christensen, Roth, and Potter. Tune into all the action at the USA Nationals site.