Team Murdoch won the men’s title at the Scottish Curling Championships for the first time since claiming their 2014 Winter Olympic silver medals, while Team Muirhead clinched their third women’s title in succession.
Finals day began with Team Muirhead facing Team Fleming in the women’s title decider, and a three in end five and two in end eight gave Eve Muirhead’s rink a 6-4 victory and the skip her seventh title.
Teams Mouat and Murdoch, both on six-game winning runs, collided later in the afternoon, and David Murdoch’s men were ruthless in punishing Mouat mistakes, scoring four in end three and three in the fifth to triumph 10-4.
Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Glenn Howard (coach)) went unbeaten through the tournament, with six wins in the round robin (see my review here) and victory over Team Smith in the 1v2 page playoff.
They had only just edged by Hazel Smith’s rink in the group stage, stealing two in end 10 to win 11-9, but they did a professional job on the same opponents in the playoff.
Twos in ends four and six propelled them to a 6-3 victory, putting them into the final and tipping Smith into a semi-final against Hannah Fleming’s rink.
Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Vicky Wright, Nancy Smith (coach)) had endured a tough round robin, forcing a tiebreaker by beating Team Gina Aitken in their last match.
There they saw off Team Karina Aitken 8-4, putting them into the semi with Smith.
A third consecutive victory followed, as twos in ends one and three, plus three in end six, won them the match 9-6 and booked their spot in the final.
Team Fleming made the better start to that final, maintaining their composure and preventing the Muirhead rink getting an early jump on them, as it was tied at 1-1 after four ends.
But a couple of fine shots from Sloan, and loose ones from Fleming, gave Muirhead the opportunity to hit for three, which she duly made for a 4-1 lead at halfway.
Fleming took a single in end six and stole one in end seven to narrow the gap to one, but Muirhead hit back with a two in the eighth end for a 6-3 lead which always looked difficult to pull back.
So it proved, Muirhead running out 6-4 winners for a third consecutive Scottish title (seventh in all) and passage to Worlds in Beijing (March 18-26).
Afterwards, Eve Muirhead said: “I think patience was a key factor out there. Right from the off Hannah and the girls played really well, and so did we.
“We knew we had a game on our hands, we expected that, and as a team we never get ahead of ourselves or get complacent, so we stayed patient and then got that little break in the fifth end, scored the three and that gave us a little jump ahead.
Adams added: “This is what we train for, we do a lot behind the scenes, not just on the ice, and we take each game as one game, we don’t get too ahead of ourselves.
“We individualise the games, break them down into stones, single ends, making it much easier to focus on that rather than the bigger picture.”
While Muirhead won her seventh title, and Sloan and Adams their sixth, it was a first success for lead Gray, who capped it with two perfect tick shots in the final end.
She said: “I’m so delighted to have won my first Scottish Championship; it was an absolute joy to be playing with the girls today.
“I’ve been working hard on the tick shots, as this is my first season as a lead, so I was really pleased to make them both in the 10th end.”
Muirhead also praised coach Glenn Howard, adding: “As soon as we brought him on board we knew he’d help us in a lot of different ways, especially on the tactical side, and that’s just what he’s done.
“I think he was more nervous than us today! But he’s been fantastic, and absolutely delighted to get his first Scottish title I guess – but now he has the Canadian Championship coming up next week, and we’re all behind him for that.”
Now the focus turns to the World Championships in China, on which Sloan said: “It’s a quick turnaround, so we’ll get back to training pretty quickly.
“We’re really looking forward to getting out there, the field will be tough this year as always, but we’re in a good place and we just need to build on our performances this week – I think we’ve been pretty consistent.
“We’re excited and looking forward to the challenge.”
The men’s final was a meeting of the two form teams, with Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Gregor Cannon, Derrick Sloan, Alasdair Schreiber (alternate), Alan Hannah (coach)) and Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow, Ian Tetley (coach)) both on six-game winning streaks.
Team Murdoch had a slow start, but picked up the pace to finish on a W7 L2 record and top the standings – review of the men’s round robin here.
That put them into the 1v2 page playoff against Kyle Smith’s rink, and after a tight match Murdoch emerged victorious 4-3, stealing one in end six and taking their one down the last to make the final.
Team Mouat had to get there the hard way after a terrible Tuesday – losing heavily to Teams Murdoch and Whyte – and three wins on the trot forced a tiebreaker against Team Hardie, which they edged 5-4.
They faced defending champions Team Brewster in the 3v4 playoff, and steals in ends five and six, then a two in the ninth, gave them a 6-4 victory.
Their semi-final with Team Smith was dramatic in the extreme, Mouat dominating the opening five ends and leading 4-2.
Two in end seven and successive steals looked to have swung it for Smith, but a disastrous final end saw them give up three, Mouat winning 7-6 to set up a Murdoch showdown.
It was a showdown which saw Murdoch clinically exploit little mistakes from Mouat, who was playing an aggressive game but seemed to run out of gas after their Universiade exploits and long week in Perth.
Draws came up short or were a touch wide, and after the teams traded twos in the first couple of ends, Murdoch exploded into a 9-3 lead after five ends, courtesy of four in end three and three in the fifth.
There were to be no miracles for Mouat to allow a comeback as Murdoch completed a professional job well done, handshakes offered in the eighth end with the score 10-4.
An elated David Murdoch reflected on a ruthless performance afterwards: “That’s how we wanted to be. We didn’t win our last two finals, and we wanted to make sure that as we were the more experienced team we came across with that authority, played our A game and put a lot of pressure on the guys.
“For a first final it’s quite daunting out there and we wanted to make sure we put them under as much pressure as we could.”
On his team, he said: “I’m super proud of them. We’ve had this as our goal for a long, long time and put in a ton of work.
“It’s not easy to win this championship; we’ve had a super week, and we look to keep that going and get a good result in the World Championships.
“It’s something the general public probably don’t see, the early starts, in the gym and on the ice; you need to have that amount of work put in to achieve that type of goal.
“We covered every aspect of this week, we wanted to make sure we left no stone unturned, and we certainly did that.”
Murdoch is under no illusions that competition at Worlds will be fierce, adding: “The World Championship a year before the Olympics is probably the toughest year; every team is coming up to their best at the end of the quadrennial.
“It’s in the lion’s den, in Edmonton, and we know how exciting that is – we’ve been there and done it plenty of times, and that excites us too.
“We need to be at our best as it’s going to be a tough fight. [But] I like our chances.
“I’ve said for a long time, although results might not have been going well this season at times, I always like the way we’re throwing it, and we just needed the extra challenge of the Scottish Championship, some good ice conditions, and we brought our best.”