Junior curling excellence, then and now
by Randy Pascal
With all of the local clubs enjoying what amounts to, more or less, a one week hiatus from league action and such in the period between Christmas and
New Year’s, all eyes of the Sudbury curling community turn towards the NOCA Best Western U21 Men & Women Provincial championships in Thunder Bay.
While our area has enjoyed a great deal of curling success over the course of the past ten to 15 years or so, nowhere has this been more evident than in
the junior (now U21) ranks. In fact, I was only mere months into the launch of my media involvement in the local sports scene, back in early 2004, when I
was contacted by then Lockerby Composite student and now Laurentian Voyageur curling coach Ryan Lafraniere.
Certainly, the Idylwylde Jr Men’s quartet of Jamie Morphet, Matt Dumontelle, Paul Arkilander and Lafraniere were not the initial trail
blazers when it comes to local junior curling excellence. They just happened to be the first ones that I would be covering.
A 3-2 win over the Matt Seabrook (Sault Ste Marie) in the Northern Ontario final secured Team Morphet a berth at nationals in Victoria, a
seemingly regular occurrence for either a men’s or women’s team from these parts (occasionally both) in the 13 years that have passed since then.
Just twelve months after the Morphet victory came the stretch of NOCA banners that would come the way of the Idylwylde thanks, initially, to the pairing
of sisters Jennifer and Tracy Horgan, teamed up in 2005 with Amanda Gates and Stephanie Barbeau. That crew required an extra
end in order to slip past Ashley Miharija of Thunder Bay, northern curlers who would cross paths countless times, and will do so again in January,
at the 2018 Provincial Scotties in Sudbury.
It surprises me to think that it has already been more than a decade since Tracy Horgan would lead her team to a repeat performance, coming through with
what is likely one of the greatest shots she has ever made, especially considering the circumstances. Tied at 9-9 in the final end, down to her final stone,
Horgan was surveying a situation that seemed to offer little hope.
“There really wasn’t many options – I pretty much thought we were done and had lost,” she said in the days following her miracle draw. Sneaking her rock
through a port that included only a centimeter or two of clearance, Horgan would earn her second straight trip to nationals, with Lindsay Miners
stepping in to replace Jennifer Horgan, who had aged out.
With the Horgan three year run ending in 2008, the torch would be passed twelve months later to the Vanessa Maloney rink, a team which included
Kendra Lilly, Jenny Gates and Kaitlynd Burns. With Lilly ascending to her role as skip in 2010 and Kim Curtin joining the Idylwylde
trio, replacing Maloney (aged out), the locals broke new ground in Sorel (Quebec), earning a berth in the semi-finals, only to lose a 4-3 extra end
heartbreaker to Dailene Sivertson of British Columbia.
Lilly would make a grand total of four appearances at Junior Nationals, with Courtney Chenier, Avery Thomas and Crystal Lillico all
earning at least one trip at her side. In fact, a January of 2013 win by Tirzah Keffer of Port Arthur Curling Club over Krysta Burns
in the gold medal game – it should be noted the entire Burns rink were still bantam aged, at the time – snapped a string in which the NOCA junior women’s
champions would hail from the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club in seven of the previous eight years.
Come early 2014, the Sudbury crew were serving notice of an impressive dominance to come. On the boys side, the foursome of Tanner Horgan, Nick
Servant, Jacob Horgan and Maxime Blais kicked off a stretch that threatens to be lengthened this coming weekend in Thunder Bay.
In women’s play, Krysta Burns would follow a similar path to the one that was originally trekked by Tracy Horgan and Kendra Lilly, with Leah Hodgson,
Sara Guy and Laura Masters accompanying the Marymount Academy graduate on that initial visit to nationals in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.
During this recent span, the locals have taken a huge step forward in terms of their competitiveness on a national scale, with Horgan and his team (J
Horgan, Nicholas Bissonnette, Blais) garnering silver medals in Stratford, and adding bronze to the mix last February in Victoria. Even better was
the fact that the Northern Ontario women’s team of Krysta Burns, Megan Smith, Sara Guy and Laura Masters matched that third place finish out west,
before closing off their 2016-2017 by capturing the CIS championships while representing Laurentian University.
More to come from 2018 northern playdowns as Team Horgan made it five straight years in which they would don the colours of the region, beating
Christopher Silver (Fort Frances) 7-4 in the final.
The NOCA women's champs are the Fort William Curling Club quartet of Hailey Beaudry, Kendra Lemieux, Emily Cooney and Erin Tomalty,
unseating the Sudbury entry of Kira Brunton, Megan Smith, Sara Guy and Kate Sherry 9-5 late Saturday afternoon.