Randy in the Rings: Deschene still hard at work, still competitive

Curling rocks are seen during the Northern Alberta Curling Association Scotties Women Northern Playdown held at the Crestwood Curling Club in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013. The 2014 Jiffy Lube Scotties Tournament of Hearts is being held in Sylvan Lake from Jan. 8 to 12, 2014. Ian Kucerak/Edmonton Sun/QMI Agency

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Abby Deschene had to work hard to piece together a team for the women’s U21 competitive curling season this year.

Now, she’ll have to work even harder.

The original plan this fall called for Deschene to skip a team featuring vice Alyssa McVittie, second Mackenzie Hepworth, from New Liskeard, and lead Emily Brock.

Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case, life gets in the way. In this particular case, it forced Hepworth to back out of the picture, creating a little less certainty, especially early in the season.

“We have people temporarily filling in for our bonspiels,” said Deschene, sitting with her fellow back-ender at their home club of Curl Sudbury earlier this week. “Emily might curl lead or second — we’re not set on our lineup. It depends on who we can get.”

What was certain, at least from the time last spring rolled around, was that the cornerstones of this squad were not prepared, just yet, to back away from the competitive stream, despite trying to overcome a pair of teams in Brunton and Croisier that already enjoy the pedigree of national championships.

“Initially, I was prepared to give up a year of U21 curling, because I really couldn’t think of who else would be out there,” said Deschene, an 18-year-old first-year student at Laurentian University, where she studies business administration and accounting. “It was that extra talk with Alyssa that made me come to my senses, realize that I wanted to continue.

“And there was also my run at mixed provincials, last spring. I saw hope all of a sudden.”

In fact, throwing together a team with little to no expectations for the NOCA playdowns in New Liskeard, Deschene skipped her team to within a win of the finals.

“I honestly have pretty minimal experience at skip,” she said. “Before joining Team Croisier, I dabbled a little as skip when I was young.

“In league play, I switched with my dad at the back end of a league, just for fun. I did some high school curling (as skip) and then the mixed team took a chance on me. For me, the thing that comes least naturally is trusting my instincts. I know that my instincts are right 95 per cent of the time, but there’s always that seed of doubt, especially as a new skip.

“Should I take that extra inch of ice or should I not? It will be that experience factor that I will be lacking.”

Enter Alyssa McVittie, a teammate of Deschene’s with the Alyssa Denyer U21 rink last year and an ideal vice, according to her skip. 

“I skipped all the way through high school (Ecole secondaire catholique du Sacre Coeur), I did skip a U21 team a few years back, but played second most of the time growing up,” said McVittie, entering her final year of age eligibility in this grouping. “I know how to play the back end and how to play the front end.

“But I personally don’t think I would want to skip an entire game. I like the shooting, the sweeping, helping to call the game, a little mix of everything. I can help. But I definitely trust Abby to keep track of the more mental aspect of the game, the strategy and stuff.”

And much like Deschene, the 20-year-old third-year health promotions major is keeping everything in perspective as they seek to surprise the NOCA curling pundits.

“There’s not a lot of teams in northern Ontario that are competing, so it is the same teams that we see, a lot,” said McVittie.

“There is something to be said for having the confidence to keep tackling these teams, even if some games don’t go as well as we would like.”

Beyond the 2019-20 campaign, McVittie hopes to connect with more similarly minded female curlers.

“For women’s, it will be a matter of finding a team and getting some players together who all have the same goal of continuing with curling, but not necessarily travelling all over the country.”

Coming off a quarter-final loss at an open bonspiel in Ottawa on Thanksgiving weekend that saw Deschene and Brock curling with a rotation that included Lauren Rajala, Kira Brunton, Calissa Daly, as well as coach Jeff Brown from North Bay, the team will now prepare for the KW Cash Spiel on the first weekend of November.

While one can understand the desire of McVittie and others to limit their curling travel once they begin to balance careers and possible families, it’s also easy to make sense of the craziness that is the Team Fleury schedule.

Sudbury native Tracy Fleury and her crew of Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish are taking aim at a national title, tackling a schedule that has featured 11 straight matches decided by three points or less in the past 10 days.

With Jill Officer aboard for the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic in Calgary last weekend, Fleury started with three straight victories, beating Kellie Stiksma of Edmonton, 6-4, Korean Min Ji Kim, 9-7, and American Nina Roth, 5-4, before being bumped to the B qualifying bracket following a 7-5 loss to Manitoba rival Kerri Einarson.

Victories over Alina Kovaleva of Russia, 5-4, and Kayla Skrlik of Calgary, 6-5, earned the Fleury quartet a spot in the playoffs, where they doubled Jennifer Jones 6-3 before being eliminated following an 8-5 loss to Casey Scheidegger.

Precious little time to dust themselves off as the defending Manitoba champs are in Portage la Prairie for the Canada Inns Women’s Classic, looking for another B qualifying slot following games with Kristy Watling (6-4 win), Daniela Jentsch of Germany (5-4 extra-end loss) and Skylar Ackerman (6-5 extra-end win).

Fleury and company will be much closer to home next week, part of the field at the Grand Slam event that is being hosted in North Bay. As for this weekend, Kendra Lilly and the remaining members of the Krista McCarville are taking part in the women’s draw of the Stroud Cash Spiel, with rinks skipped by both Sandy MacEwan and Jacob Horgan doing the same on the opposite side of the draw.

Randy in the Rings runs weekly during the curling season.