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.

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US Curling Power Rankings – February 9, 2017

After a hiatus brought on by the author’s up-and-down health and a fried laptop, we are back with an updated ranking ahead of this week’s USA Nationals. Results from the Challenge Rounds play a role in some re-shuffling, but most if not all teams have settled into their place in the pecking order. Consider this the final “regular season” poll, with the previous five months taken into account and recent results weighted heavier.

Men

  1. Heath McCormick (PW: 1)
  2. Craig Brown (PW: 2)
  3. John Shuster (PW: 3)
  4. Todd Birr (PW: 5)
  5. Brady Clark (PW: 4)
  6. Pete Fenson (PW: NR)

Women

  1. Nina Roth (PW: 1)
  2. Cory Christensen (PW: 2)
  3. Jamie Sinclair (PW: 4)
  4. Cassie Potter (PW: 3)
  5. Cristin Clark (PW: 6)
  6. Jessica Schultz (PW: 5)

 

Later today, a preview of the USA Nationals will come out, with analysis and predictions (just remember, don’t go to Vegas and spend the rent money on my selections).

US Curling Power Rankings – January 3, 2017

The back half of the 2016-2017 curling season kicks off this week with the Meridian Canadian Open on the World Curling Tour and the USA Nationals Challenge Rounds taking place closer to home. A preview of the challenge rounds, highlights from an interview with Thomas Howell (lead for the top-ranked Heath McCormick rink) as their team embarks on its first Grand Slam of Curling event, and the updated  rankings are on-tap in this week’s edition.

Six women’s teams head to Waupaca, WI this week to play for three berths to the USA Nationals in Everett, WA in February (auto-berths to Nationals were given last month to the teams led by Nina Roth, Jamie Sinclair, Cory Christensen, and Jessica Schultz). 2006 Olympian Cassie Potter and her rink have been relatively consistent this season with middle-of-the-road finishes highlighted by a trip to the finals of the Curl Mesabi Classic in December and is the overwhelming favorite to secure one of the three qualification spots. Beyond them, the fight for the remaining spots is fairly even. Team Cristin Clark from Seattle has the most experience this season on the World Curling Tour and could be considered the best of the rest in this field, but Team Madison Bear from the junior ranks has shown well when competing against the other US teams in a limited WCT schedule. The teams led by Annemarie Dubberstein, Lysa Johnson, and Becca Wood round out the field. One team will qualify from each of the three brackets (A, B, and C), with all starting in A and then moving to B and C should they lose. Action starts on Friday afternoon and continues through the weekend.

Thirteen men’s teams converge on the Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, MN to contest for four qualifying places at USA Nationals (auto-berths to Nationals were given to the rinks led by Heath McCormick, Craig Brown, John Shuster, Brady Clark, and Todd Birr). Of the field, Pete Fenson and Stephen Dropkin’s foursomes have played the most WCT events and had the best results to date in them, but with such a disparity in rinks in the challenge round, handicapping potential qualifiers is difficult. Similar to the women, the challenge round will be contested via a triple-knockout format (one qualifier from A, one from B, and two from C). Games start on Thursday evening and run through Sunday morning.

Team Heath McCormick heads to North Battleford, SK this week for the Meridian Canadian Open, the third of four Grand Slam of Curling “majors” on this year’s schedule. McCormick qualified for the event as a result of a massively successful first half of the season, which comprised of four wins in nine events and a year-to-date ranking of 16th. The lead for this team, Thomas Howell, is an economics and business major at Marquette University here in Milwaukee and I had a chance to sit down with him recently to discuss their team’s success, his entry to the sport, and how he juggles elite-level curling and school. Howell came to curling by way of his parents picking up the game after college and rose the ranks to the point where their regional association paired him up with another rink in the region being led by Stephen Dropkin (his brother, Korey, plays second for McCormick). His first taste of national-level competition was the 2009 US Junior Nationals. Howell and Korey Dropkin would pair up to win the 2016 US Junior Nationals and bring home a silver medal from the World Junior Curling Championships last winter. As for how school and curling collide, Tom admits that it is “stupid hard” balancing the two, considering that Marquette doesn’t provide any institutional support for non-NCAA athletes in their midst (apparently, a number of speed skaters aligned with the Pettit National Ice Center are also students at Marquette and have seen similar obstacles). Staying on top of a heavy travel and bonspiel schedule and academic responsibilities has required taking lighter course loads and working closely with professors and his major department on deadlines. Howell said that their team “wanted to expect” that they would have the type of season we’ve seen from them, but that it was truly unexpected just HOW successful they have been, believing that qualifying for the playoffs in their opening event (the Ontario Curling Tour Fall Classic, where they finished second) laid the foundation for the third-place finish in China the following week and the run of wins to follow. He also stressed that they need to be a little more consistent in larger-field events in Western Canada (they hadn’t qualified for the playoffs in any of the three “big” events they had played at the time of the interview), but I argued that they have been consistent even in those events by going relatively deep into the C-bracket in all of them and not having any 3-and-outs to date.

The rankings this week look very similar to those of two weeks ago, as no men’s team got past the quarterfinals at the US Open of Curling and the inconsistency on the women’s side (only two of the six US-ranked teams made the playoffs in Blaine) has allowed Nina Roth to secure a slightly-tighter grip on the #1 spot.

Men

  1. Heath McCormick – Idle. (PW: 1)
  2. Craig Brown – Qualified for playoffs at the US Open. (PW: 2)
  3. John Shuster – Idle. (PW: 3)
  4. Brady Clark – A-qualifier at the US Open, win over #5 Todd Birr. (PW: 4)
  5. Todd Birr – B-qualifier at the US Open. (PW: 5)
  6. Stephen Dropkin – Idle. (PW: 6)

Women

  1. Nina Roth – Finalist at the US Open, wins over #4 Jamie Sinclair, #5 Jessica Schultz, and #6 Cristin Clark. (PW: 1)
  2. Cory Christensen – B-qualifier at the US Open, win over #4 Jamie Sinclair. (PW: 4)
  3. Cassie Potter – Missed playoffs at the US Open, win over  #4 Jamie Sinclair. (PW: 3)
  4. Jamie Sinclair – Missed playoffs at the US Open. (PW: 2)
  5. Jessica Schultz – Missed playoffs at the US Open. (PW: 5)
  6. Cristin Clark – Missed playoffs at the US Open. (PW: 6)

 

Next week, a recap of the challenge rounds and the Canadian Open (Team John Shuster is also in the field) and perhaps new entries to the men’s rankings.

US Curling Power Rankings – December 20, 2016

Team Heath McCormick continue their domination of the American bonspiel circuit with a third title in three US-based World Curling Tour events, winning the Curl Mesabi Classic this past weekend. On the women’s side, former Olympian Cassie Potter’s rink clawed their way to the final in Eveleth following a year-to-date best 4-1 round-robin record. Elsewhere on the planet, Team Craig Brown came fourth at the Qinghai (China) International while Nina Roth’s foursome finished third in the women’s event. The results of this week’s action brings a shuffling to both the men’s and women’s rankings as we head into the holidays.

Men

  1. Heath McCormick – Champion at the Curl Mesabi Classic; beat #3 John Shuster in the final. (PW: 1)
  2. Craig Brown – Fourth place at the Qinghai International. (PW: 2)
  3. John Shuster – Finalist at Curl Mesabi. (PW: 5)
  4. Brady Clark – Made the round of 12 at Curl Mesabi; beat #6 Stephen Dropkin in round-robin play. (PW:3)
  5. Todd Birr – Made the round of 12 at Curl Mesabi; beat #4 Brady Clark and #6 Stephen Dropkin in round-robin play. (PW: 6)
  6. Stephen Dropkin – Missed playoffs at Curl Mesabi. (PW: 4)

Women

  1. Nina Roth – Third place at the Qinghai International. (PW: 2)
  2. Jamie Sinclair – Made playoffs at Curl Mesabi; beat #5 Jessica Schultz in round-robin play. (PW: 1)
  3. Cassie Potter – Finalist at Curl Mesabi; beat #2 Jamie Sinclair and #5 Jessica Schultz in round-robin play; beat Sinclair in the quarterfinals and #4 Cory Christensen in the semifinals. (PW: 5)
  4. Cory Christensen – Semifinalist at Curl Mesabi; beat #6 Cristin Clark in round-robin play. (PW: 3)
  5. Jessica Schultz – Missed playoffs at Curl Mesabi (PW: 4)
  6. Cristin Clark – Missed playoffs at Curl Mesabi (PW: 6)

A wrap-up of the first half of the 2016-2017 season will be posted later this week, so keep an eye out for it.

US Curling Power Rankings – December 13, 2016

A light schedule since the Duluth Cash Spiel results in little movement in the power rankings, with Heath McCormick and Jamie Sinclair maintaining their #1 positions. No women’s team has played on tour since Duluth, so their rankings remain the same from two weeks ago, while the men’s poll sees Stephen Dropkin move up following another playoff qualification in Manitoba.

Men

  1. Heath McCormick – Idle.
  2. Craig Brown – Idle.
  3. Brady Clark – Idle.
  4. Stephen Dropkin – B-qualifier at the Thistle Integrity Stakes (third playoff appearance in four events) (PW: 6)
  5. John Shuster – 0-4 at the Boost National, missed playoffs (PW: 4)
  6. Todd Birr – Idle. (PW: 5)

Women

  1. Jamie Sinclair – Idle.
  2. Nina Roth – Idle.
  3. Cory Christensen – Idle.
  4. Jessica Schultz – Idle.
  5. Cassie Potter – Idle.
  6. Cristin Clark – Idle.

 

This week will see all the listed teams except for Craig Brown and Nina Roth playing in the Curl Mesabi Classic in Eveleth, MN (Brown and Roth are representing the US in the Qinghai International in China, with both posting 2-1 records in the event as of this post). With Curl Mesabi being the final event before automatic berths to the USA Nationals are allocated (top five men’s rinks and top four women’s rinks qualify directly), a jostle for points this weekend will make for some fierce action amongst our ranked teams. Next week, we will do a first-half review and look for a spotlight piece on Tom Howell, lead for Team McCormick, to appear in a future edition of the rankings. Also, congratulations to Alex Leichter on being named to Team USA for the 2017 Winter University Games in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

US Curling Power Rankings – November 29, 2016

Heath McCormick and Nina Roth came out on top at the Duluth Cash Spiel this past weekend in the second big showdown amongst US teams on this year’s World Curling Tour schedule. When the dust settled, there was some shuffling in the rankings, but not as much as one might expect.

Men

  1. Heath McCormick – Champion at Duluth; third title of the season (40-16 overall record); beat #5 Todd Birr in a B-final, #4 John Shuster in the playoff final.
  2. Craig Brown – Semifinalist in Duluth; 4-3 for the week;  beat #3 Brady Clark in a quarterfinal.
  3. Brady Clark – B-qualifier in Duluth; beat #5 Todd Birr in A-bracket play. (PW:4)
  4. John Shuster – Finalist in Duluth (first trip past quarters this season); beat #2 Craig Brown in a semifinal. (PW:5)
  5. Todd Birr – Made B-final and C-final in Duluth;  beat #2 Craig Brown in B-bracket play. (PW:3)
  6. Stephen Dropkin – A-qualifier in Duluth (second playoff appearance in three events); beat #2 Craig Brown and #3 Brady Clark in A-bracket play. (PW:NR)

Women

  1. Jamie Sinclair – Finalist in Duluth; beat #4 Jessica Schultz in pool play.
  2. Nina Roth – Champion in Duluth; beat #5 Cassie Potter and #6 Cristin Clark in pool play, #4 Cory Christensen in a semifinal, #1 Jamie Sinclair in the final.(PW:3)
  3. Cory Christensen – Semifinalist in Duluth; beat #6 Cristin Clark, #5 Cassie Potter, and #2 Nina Roth in pool play. (PW:4)
  4. Jessica Schultz – Missed playoffs in Duluth. (PW:2)
  5. Cassie Potter – Missed playoffs in Duluth; beat #6 Cristin Clark in pool play.
  6. Cristin Clark – Missed playoffs in Duluth.

 

As of posting time, it looks to be a light week on the docket for the US teams. John Shuster and Nina Roth will be representing the US in NBC Sports Network’s “Curling Night in America” series, to be taped Thursday-Saturday in Duluth, while Stephen Dropkin will be playing in the Thistle Integrity Stakes in Winnipeg, MB. With just a couple of weeks remaining until automatic berths to the USA National Championships are announced, the fight will be fierce for those spots and the ability to avoid the Challenge Rounds in January.

US Curling Power Rankings – November 22, 2016

Another big week in US Curling is ahead of us, with all of the ranked American rinks (both men’s and women’s) heading to Duluth, MN for the Coors Light/Molson Cash Spiel. In addition, USA Curling will announce later today the men’s and women’s teams that will be part of Team North America at the Continental Cup of Curling in Las Vegas in January (based on year-to-date rankings, the foursomes led by Heath McCormick and Jamie Sinclair are expected to be the US representatives). The rankings will be at the bottom of this week’s post (there is a new #1 on the women’s side), but I want to start with spotlighting a pair of curlers from California that are heading to Abbotsford, BC for their first-ever World Curling Tour event this weekend.

I met Auria Moore and Porsche Renae Stephenson through the power of Twitter while following the US Arena Nationals in May. They were part of a rink from the Wine Country Curling Club in Roseville, CA, finishing 2-3 in their pool but failing to advance to the playoffs. After reading their profiles and seeing some of their goals (2018 Olympian being the big one), I decided to keep a tab on them. Following their trip to the US Olympic Training Center in Blaine, MN for a High Performance Program Open Camp in August, I started conversing a bit with Auria and when I saw that they were listed for the WCT event in Abbotsford over the Thanksgiving weekend (the only US team this week not playing in Duluth), we talked about giving them a little publicity in the US curling community.

cxk6htiukaes4npAuria (center) and Porsche with Darryl Horsman at the Coyotes Curling Club in Tempe, AZ.

Auria came to the sport after injuries forced her to shelve a competitive career in boxing. Oddly, her and Porsche were watching the Beatles movie Help! and there is a scene where the band is curling. It triggered memories of a trip to Canada where Auria saw curling all over TV and wondered if California had anything to do with the sport. A Learn-to-Curl led them to begin subbing at the club the next week, and then onto bonspieling. The trip to Arena Nationals and then the HPP Open Camp were further steps in playing at a competitive level, and Abbotsford is the next phase of that development. They would like to see greater elite-level training opportunities for teams to grow their games and get over the hurdle of feeling they can’t “level up” to the competition on the WCT circuit. Additionally, getting more clubs in the US hosting WCT events (currently, the only one not in Minnesota is the Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic in Phoenix) would help give access to US teams to test themselves against each other and against high-level curlers from Canada and abroad (The ladies’ first match is against 2009 World Champion Bingyu Wang; the event also includes the top women’s rinks in British Columbia and former Scotties representatives). Follow their adventures this weekend (November 25-28) on the WCT site. First draw for them is 11am PT on Friday.

And now, the rankings:

Men

  1. Heath McCormick – 3-3 at the DEKALB Superspiel, failed to make playoffs.
  2. Craig Brown – Idle.
  3. Todd Birr – 3-3 at the DEKALB Superspiel, failed to make playoffs.
  4. Brady Clark – Idle.
  5. John Shuster – Idle.

Women

  1. Jamie Sinclair – Semifinalist at the DEKALB Superspiel (B-qualifier); 6-2 for the weekend. (PW:2)
  2. Jessica Schultz – 2-3 at the DEKALB Superspiel, failed to make playoffs. (PW:1)
  3. Nina Roth – Idle.
  4. Cory Christensen – Idle.
  5. Cassie Potter – 0-3 at the DEKALB Superspiel, failed to make playoffs.
  6. Cristin Clark – Idle.

 

As mentioned in the opening, almost all US Curling attention will be focused on Duluth for the second major showdown of US rinks this season (the St. Paul Cash Spiel being the first), with Moore and Stephenson’s team (skipped this week by Jenn Nguyen from Denver) in Abbotsford. Before we go, congratulations Team Darryl Horsman as they picked up their first-ever World Curling Tour victory last weekend at the DEKALB Superspiel.