olympics

2016-17 curling preview and power rankings

My vacation is over (great, thanks), just in time for the new curling season.

I’m going to track U.S. curlers on a couple of shared spreadsheets this season. But first, a quick offseason roundup:

Men’s High Performance shuffling: The High Performance program, which brings together some of the nation’s top curlers to train with national coaches, has expanded to five teams per gender (three full, two junior).

The men’s side returns two teams mostly intact. John Shuster took bronze at the World Championships with Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner. The only change on that team is the addition of alternate Joe Polo. A second skip, Craig Brown, still has Kroy Nernberger and Sean Beighton, but Jason Smith replaces Jared Zezel, and Quinn Evenson has been added as alternate.

The third men’s team is a Frankenstein. Heath McCormick returns to the HP program as skip, with occasional skip Chris Plys as vice. Then add Korey Dropkin, who skipped an HP junior team last year, with fellow graduating junior Tom Howell.

One of the men’s junior teams, skipped by Hunter Clawson, has moved intact from Maryland after making a solid run at the U.S. Championships last year. The other junior team is new and far-flung, with New Yorker Andrew Stopera as skip with a couple of teammates from Washington (not D.C.) and Minnesota.

Women’s retirements and High Performance reassembly: The top U.S. team was NOT a High Performance team. Veteran Erika Brown assembled an all-star team with Allison Pottinger, Nicole Joraanstad and Natalie Nicholson. Brown retired in June; Joraanstad soon followed.

Meanwhile, the HP teams got a heavy-duty changeover, especially with promising skip Cory Christensen and several teammates graduating from the junior ranks.

Jamie Sinclair and Nina Roth are still HP skips, but their teams are almost totally different. Sinclair still has alternate Tara Peterson and adds Alex Carlson, who skipped her own team last season, and former Roth players Vicky Persinger and Monica Walker. The only returning player on the Roth team, Aileen Sormunen, is now Aileen Geving. Roth also gets Tabitha Peterson and Becca Hamilton from Sinclair’s team.

Christensen moves up from juniors with two of her teammates, Sarah and Taylor Anderson. Her new lead is Jenna Haag, who played with Sinclair last year.

Madison Bear, the other member of Christensen’s 2015-16 team, is still a junior, and she’ll skip one of the HP junior teams. AnnMarie Dubberstein skips the other one.

Got it? Good. Now prepare for more confusion …

They’re back: Remember the “Curl Girls” of the 2006 Olympics? Cassie and Jamie Johnson led the popular team of young, enthusiastic players along with Jessica Schultz, Maureen Brunt and alternate Courtney George.

Cassie Johnson is now Cassie Potter, and she hasn’t played much in recent years, though she has been active as an athlete representative within USA Curling. She’s back with a new crew this year.

Schultz never really took time off — she returned to the Olympics with Brown in 2014 and has played in four World Championships. Still only 31, she played mostly mixed doubles last year but returns this year as a skip with Courtney George, who had been plugging away as a skip in her own right, as vice.

Also still around — 2006 medalist Pete Fenson, who picks up former HP player Zezel and two recent juniors, including Alex Fenson.

Who’s playing? There’s still time, but so far on the World Curling Tour team list, I only count three of the seven skips who played in last year’s U.S. Women’s Championships: Sinclair, Roth and Christensen. Brown retired, Emily Anderson has moved to vice with skip Cristin Clark’s Seattle-based team, and I don’t see any listings for Abigayle Lindgren or Joyance Meechai. U.S. senior champion Norma O’Leary also isn’t listed, though she didn’t play many WCT events last year. I’m also not sure of veteran Patti Lank’s status.

The calendar: In addition to the weekly World Curling Tour events, the top curlers will have a gauntlet of national and international championships:

  • Jan. 4-8: Challenge Rounds, where teams try to qualify for nationals. Men will be in Blaine, Minn. Women will be in Waupaca, Wis.
  • Jan. 12-15: Continental Cup, Las Vegas. This is a made-for-TV event that uses a couple of different formats, a bit like the Ryder Cup. Team World has been named, and it’s very, very good.
  • Jan. 27-29: USA vs. Brazil, World Championship qualifier. The USA has been going to the World Championships in most years by default, but this time, Brazil decided to challenge, and it has thrown the calendar into chaos, mostly because several players likely to be involved are also chasing Olympic berths in the new discipline of mixed doubles.
  • Feb. 11-18: U.S. Championships, Everett, Wash.
  • Feb. 16-26: World Junior Championships, PyeongChang, South Korea. This might take a top team out of each gender’s national championships. Juniors did well last year and have been revved up this year.
  • March 1-5: U.S. Mixed Doubles Championships, Blaine, Minn.
  • March 18-26: Women’s World Championships, Beijing. Get ready for 2022!
  • April 1-9: Men’s World Championships, Edmonton.
  • April 22-29: World Mixed Doubles Championships, Lethbridge, Alberta.

Olympic chase (traditional four-player teams): If you enjoy reading official federation selection criteria, go for it. Here’s the short version and why we’re talking about it now …

The Olympic trials will be in Omaha Nov. 12-19, 2017. Each competition (men’s, women’s) will have 3-5 teams. There are three ways a team can automatically qualify:

  • Finish in the top five in the World Championships. (THIS year, so John Shuster’s bronze medal last year doesn’t count.)
  • Be ranked in the top 15 of the Order of Merit (men’s | women’s) at the end of the season. Shuster is currently 10th. Brown was 19th before retiring. In the unlikely event that two teams would qualify this way, only the higher-ranked team qualifies (but the other would surely be a discretionary pick).
  • Be ranked in the top 15 of the Year-to-Date Order of Merit (same links, same one-team limit).

Olympic chase (mixed doubles): Trials will be in late December 2017, site and date tba. We don’t yet know the criteria, and there aren’t many mixed doubles competitions aside from the U.S. and World Championships.

THE POWER RANKING SPREADSHEETS

Here’s how this works:

  • “Rank” is subjective. I won’t deviate too far from the Order of Merit rankings, but I’m also taking last year’s U.S. Championships into consideration, and I’m ranking McCormick’s new team as the sum of its parts. (They did very well in their first competition this season, too.)
  • “Base” is the home state as listed at the WCT for some teams. High Performance teams are either “HighPer” or “HPJr.”
  • “Wk3” gives a rounded Order of Merit score for whatever tournament that team played that week. Beneath the ranking, I’ll list tournaments and give some details on the performances. For example, McCormick picked up 30.7 OOM points for reaching the final of the Oakville Fall Classic, while U.S. champion Brady Clark picked up 0.8 after going 1-3.
  • As the season goes on, I may add more teams to the listing. I’m especially curious to see if Alex Leichter returns, and Bill Stopera has entered without former skip McCormick (but not a full team). I did count four more women’s teams and more than 10 additional men’s teams, and I’ll add them if they post at least one solid WCT performance OR qualify for the U.S. Championships.

Enjoy:

 

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