US Medal Winners, 2014 Optimist U18 International Curling Competition
Team Washington Makes Podium
While the curling world had its eyes on the Men's World Championship and the GCC was busy with around-the-clock curling at the April Spiel, the Washington U18 team quietly took home the Bronze medal at the Optimist U18 International Championships in Langley/Surrey, B.C., which started on Wednesday and finished on Sunday. It was an impressive accomplishment considering that going into the event, the United States had only won one medal in the previous 13 years of the men's event, a Bronze by a Washington team skipped by Sean Beighton in 2006. Team Connecticut won the Gold medal making it the first time that the U.S. had two teams on the podium.
The team (Skip Luc Connolly, Third Luc Violette, Second Blake Sweet, Lead Benjamin Richardson and Coach Tom Violette) posted a 4-1 record in the round-robin and entered the playoffs as the #2 seed in Pool B. They started the competition with a deuce in the last end for a last-rock win over Minnesota and a dominating win over Japan, avenging narrow losses to the Japanese the previous two years. Game three was an epic battle with Alberta, where both teams shot over 80% and Team Washington was once again able to win with a deuce in the eighth end. In what proved to be a pivotal game, the team lost a hard fought contest with the eventual Gold Medalists from Connecticut after leading 3-2 after four ends. They finished the round-robin with a win against familiar foes from B.C.
Entering the playoffs as the #2 seed meant Team Washington had to play the only undefeated team in the event from Northern Ontario. As huge underdogs the team went toe-to-toe with a very seasoned and heavy hitting team that had played in the Canadian Juniors. The Canadian team started with the hammer and got on the board first with a deuce in the third end and had a 2-0 lead after four ends. Team Washington came back with a deuce of their own in the fifth and had the game on the line in the sixth end. With Washington laying three, the Northern Ontario skip's last rock draw was clearly heavy but picked inside the hog line and screeched to a halt in the back four-foot to narrowly out-count the Washington stones for one point instead of a steal of three for Washington. Down 3-2 Team Washington played a perfect seventh end for the blank and a masterful final end to position themselves for the game-winning deuce. Connolly's attempt to hit and stay to lay two with his first rock also picked, leaving him with a hit for one to force and extra end. With the entire crowd on the edge of their seats the extra end was an intense exhibition of fine shotmaking. Northern Ontario was able to position its first two stones in the top of the four-foot and Washington spent the end trying to position itself for the big shot. Violette's tap and Connolly's freeze attempts were both a fraction away from getting shot rock among a cluster of eight rocks in the house behind the two Washington center guards. Connolly's last-rock runback attempt barely missed, leaving Northern Ontario shot and a heartbreaking loss. They played their hearts out, shooting close to 90% as a team and the back end of Violette and Connolly both shot over 90% for the game.
The team bounced back just a little over an hour later determined to come home with a medal. Nova Scotia started with the hammer and posted the first point and held a slim 2-1 lead after five ends. In the sixth end Violette made a cross-house hit and roll, and after a costly miss by the opposing skip, Connolly executed a perfect double takeout for four and a commanding three-point lead going into the seventh. Washington forced one to lead 5-3 coming home with the hammer and played flawlessly to seal the game.
Each of the four boys played amazingly well throughout, and especially stepped up their game in the playoffs. It was truly remarkable to watch. They were so close to playing for Gold!
- Coach Tom Violette