European Championships round-up: Scotland women medal again!

muirhead-ecc2016-medals
SAY CHEESE: Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer, Glenn Howard (photo: twitter.com/Team_Muirhead)

The Braehead-hosted 2016 European Championships carried on many of the same themes from Esbjerg 12 months ago.

Sweden won men’s gold and Russia women’s gold, Scotland men fell narrowly short of the playoffs, Scotland women were disappointed not to take top spot but did medal again.

Could it have been better from a Scottish performance and attendance point of view? Yes. But there are many positives to take too, not least the BBC coverage of several matches.

***

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer (alternate)) went W9 L0 through the round robin, demonstrating a superb consistency and that they were the best women’s team in Renfrewshire.

They opened with a 6-5 win over Italy, before coming through victorious by the same scoreline against Sweden – Anna Hasselborg’s rink being tipped as a medal contender prior to the competition.

Norway were seen off 10-5, Finland 10-4, Switzerland 4-3 (stealing one in end 10), Germany 8-6, the Czech Republic 10-5 and Denmark 7-3.

Russia stood between them and a perfect round robin, and although Victoria Moiseeva’s rink had overcome reigning European champion Anna Sidorova to get to Braehead, they could not stop the Muirhead juggernaut here, the Scots winning 8-4.

But the semi-finals pitted them against each other again, and this time the match was very different.

Scotland fought gamely but there were too many mistakes, and the Russians too potent, as Moiseeva scored threes in ends three, six and eight to win 11-6.

Scotland were naturally disappointed having won nine straight ahead of the playoffs – with players and onlookers both asking whether there should be a page playoff system – but they had to pick themselves up for the bronze medal match with the Czech Republic.

That they did, stealing one in end two, scoring two in end four and stealing another single in end nine to beat the Czechs 6-2.

Bronze meant a seventh European medal for skip Muirhead, and although the rink were clearly disappointed not to make another final, they are making strides under coach Glenn Howard and you’d be foolish to bet against them taking top spot at many of the competitions still to come this season – and beyond.

Eve Muirhead said: “It is good that after the week we have had we are not going away without a medal.

“This is my seventh consecutive medal and I am glad that I have quite a lot in my collection from this tournament, albeit I would have liked another colour.

“Obviously I want to win every game I play, however you have to look at the bigger picture and we are building towards the Olympics in February 2018 so that is our focus and we are always preparing for that.”

As for the final, Moiseeva repeated the trick by shocking Hasselborg’s Swedes, stealing two in end 10 for a 6-4 victory – Russia taking women’s gold once again.

***

Team Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan, Duncan Menzies (alternate)) found the round robin much tougher going than their female counterparts, eventually going out with a W4 L5 record.

An 8-3 defeat to Denmark was a far from ideal opening to their tournament, but they then went on to beat Team Ulsrud of Norway 8-7 after an extra end.

Niklas Edin’s Swedes – the reigning champions – were up next, but Scotland were unfazed and took threes in ends eight and nine to win 8-4.

But from those high points, things got decidedly patchy for the Scots. Austria beat them 7-6 (after extra end), only for Brewster to rebound with a 6-5 victory over another pedigree side, Peter De Cruz’s Switzerland, but they were to carry no momentum for that, instead giving up a steal in end 10 to lose 6-5 to Finland.

Defeat to Germany, 4-2, was another blow to their playoff hopes, though a 6-4 win over Italy set up a winner-takes-all clash with Russia.

Alexey Timofeev’s rink, however, ended their journey by stealing two in end 10 to beat the Scots 8-6 and make the playoffs themselves.

Brewster, by overcoming De Cruz, Edin and Ulsrud, showed that they can compete with the best on the big stage. But inconsistency ultimately let them down, as they failed to string together any successive victories after the win over the Swedes.

Their sixth-placed finish did at least ensure Scottish qualification for the 2017 World Men’s Curling Championship, an achievement not to be sniffed at in a competitive field.

Skip Tom Brewster told British Curling: “We can take a lot from this, but that is for the debrief and another day. Right now we are not into the play-offs so I am feeling pretty gutted.”

The men’s final was contested by Norway and Sweden, and again the Swedes came out on top at the crucial moment, winning 6-5 after an extra end to hand Niklas Edin his third successive European title.

Switzerland defeated Russia 8-6 for men’s bronze.

***

The European Championships B-Division involved men’s and women’s teams from England, and a men’s team from Wales.

England women (Hetty Garnier, Anna Fowler, Angharad Ward, Lauren Pearce, Naomi Robinson (alternate)) came closest of the three to making the playoffs to contest for A-Division promotion and/or a World Championship spot.

Victories against Slovakia (12-4), Poland (7-6), Latvia (12-6), Turkey (5-3) and Lithuania (7-6 after an extra end), and defeats to Belarus (7-4), the Netherlands (7-6 after extra end), Estonia (6-5 after extra end) and Hungary (9-8 after extra end – notice a theme here?) saw them enter a tiebreaker with the Netherlands.

So fine are the margins between victory and defeat – as the England ladies found last year, and again with all those extra end matches this time round – and they fought all the way through to end 10 where the sides were level at 7-7, only for the Dutch to steal one and take it 8-7.

The English men (Alan MacDougall, Andrew Reed, Andrew Woolston, Thomas Jaeggi, Ben Fowler (alternate)) finished on a W4 L3 record, having beaten Belgium (15-6), Slovenia (7-3), the Netherlands (6-4) and Estonia (7-5), and lost to Latvia (10-2), Hungary (9-8) and Poland (8-3).

That win-loss record was the same as Hungary and Poland’s, but LSD saw them edged out.

Wales men (Adrien Meikle, James Pougher, Rhys Phillips, Gary Coombs, Simon Pougher (alternate)) also ended up on four wins and three losses, having defeated France (7-6 after extra end), Spain (9-6), Lithuania (8-2) and Israel (7-2), and gone down to the Czech Republic (7-3), Turkey (6-3)and Slovakia (7-4).

They needed five wins for a playoff spot, but this was a step forward for the team after they’d been forced to fight off relegation to the C-Division this time last year.

The Netherlands and Slovakia won promotion to the men’s A-Division for 2017 (replacing Denmark and Finland), while Jaap van Dorp’s Dutchmen also defeated Austria for the eighth European spot at the next World Men’s Curling Championship.

Hungary and Turkey will be in the women’s A-Division next season (taking the places of Finland and Norway), though Hungary could not overcome Italy in the World Women’s Curling Championship playoff.

France men, Spain men, Poland women and Slovakia women were relegated to the C-Division for next year.

***

Away from Braehead, four young Scottish teams took part in the European Junior Curling Tour event in Thun, Switzerland.

Team Aitken (Karina Aitken, Rebecca Morrison, Hailey Duff, Laura Barr) exited at the group stage following defeats to Teams Stritt (8-4), Witschonke (5-1), Constantini (5-3) and Gauchat (4-3), and one win against Team Forbregd (6-2).

The same fate befell Team Jackson (Sophie Jackson, Naomi Brown, Mili Smith, Sophie Sinclair), who lost to Teams Keiser (8-2), Ramsfjell (5-2), Wuest (8-5) and Beer (5-4), plus a victory over Team Loertscher (8-5).

The male teams in Thun had more success – Team Bryce (Cameron Bryce, Robin Brydone, Euan Kyle, Frazer Shaw) qualified directly for the semi-finals thanks to an unbeaten round robin campaign, which saw them defeat Teams Pimpini (7-2), Hoesli (6-1), Schnider (8-5), Ramsfjell (8-2) and Myran (5-2).

Joining them in the playoffs were Team Whyte (Ross Whyte, Callum Kinnear, Ryan McCormack, Duncan McFadzean), who battled into the quarter-finals courtesy of wins over Teams Hess (6-2), Muskatewitz (5-4) and Mancini (4-3), with their reverses coming against Teams Foss (4-3) and Lottenbach (7-1).

In the quarters, Whyte staged an incredible comeback after being 8-2 down after three ends, scoring two in end four then stealing one in end five, one in six, two in seven and another two in end eight for a 10-8 triumph.

But the final proved just out of reach for both Scottish teams – Whyte edged out 3-2 by Hess and Bryce giving up a steal of two in the extra end to lose 5-3 to Lottenbach.

While Lottenbach won the men’s final (and Witschonke the women’s), Bryce claimed an 8-5 victory over Whyte in the men’s 3/4 match, scoring twos in ends three, seven and eight.

Teams Fleming and Murdoch secure second spots

flem-stockh
Team Fleming, runners-up in Stockholm (photo: twitter.com/Team_Fleming1)

Teams Fleming and Murdoch both reached finals in Curling Champions Tour events this weekend, only to be pipped at the last by Swedish opposition.

Fleming went unbeaten in making the Stockholm Ladies Cup final, before losing to Team Hasselborg, while Murdoch did the same but were denied the Swiss Cup Basel title by Team Edin.

Elsewhere, Teams Aitken and Bryce were the winners at the Kinross Junior Classic – and the pairing of Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat have made the playoffs at the Canad Inns Mixed Doubles Championship.

***

Two Scottish rinks were involved in the Stockholm Ladies Cup – Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Vicky Wright) and Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Kelly Schafer, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray).

Fleming had it tough in Pool B, but got off to the perfect start by defeating the reigning world champions Team Feltscher 6-4, and then the reigning European champions and world bronze medallists Team Sidorova 5-3.

Further wins against Teams Lundman (6-4) and Matsumura (9-4, with threes in ends two and seven) secured them a spot in the quarter-finals.

Muirhead began their Pool D challenge with a straightforward 6-3 victory against Team Hegner, but they came unstuck against Team Hasselborg, the Swedes taking three in end four and winning 7-5.

They then gave up a four in end five to lose 6-4 versus Team Kim, and so a 5-3 win over Team Mani was not enough to earn passage to the quarter-finals.

Disappointment, yes, but these are early days for Project Muirhead, what with the line-up and coaching changes, and new tactical guru Glenn Howard – present in Stockholm – will have seen plenty of ‘teachable moments’ (to borrow Ian Tetley’s phrase) to use for future competitions.

Fleming, though, were only getting started. They faced Team Ogasawara in the last eight, and scored twos in ends one, three and six – then took their one with hammer in end eight to beat the Japanese rink 7-6.

In the semi-finals they met Kim, and the Koreans led 3-1 after four ends. Fleming scored twos in ends five and seven though, and when the match went to an extra end they again took their one with hammer to win it, 6-5 this time.

That put them into the final against Hasselborg, who like Fleming had won six straight games to get there.

The match proved to be one too far for Fleming, conceding two in end one and steals in ends two and three, finding themselves 4-1 down after four ends after getting bunged up too often in the middle of the sheet.

Fleming stole one in end six, but a two for Hasselborg in end seven prompted handshakes at 6-2 – an impressive win for the in-form Swedes, who barely put a foot wrong in the final.

That shouldn’t take away from Fleming’s achievement though – they had a superb run, beating top teams along the way, and will benefit from ranking points aplenty. And if they can carry forward these performances… that would bode very well for the rest of the season.

Skip Hannah Fleming said: “We are very pleased with the result, we gained in confidence with every game we played and it showed to us that we can compete with the best teams.

“We worked really hard to get to the final and it was the first ladies final at a CCT event for all of us and it will hopefully be the first of many.

“We have the European Playdowns to look forward to against Team Muirhead – Eve is world class and in any event she is always going to be there or thereabouts, so we are not going to get ahead of ourselves, but this weekend has given us the reassurance of what we can achieve.”

***

There was also a Scottish finalist at the Swiss Cup Basel, with all four Scots rinks who made the trip performing strongly in the triple knockout format competition.

Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) have started the season pretty slowly, but they were in no mood to mess about here – qualifying for the playoffs directly via the A-Road.

Wins over Team Jan Hess (8-4, with a four in end four), Team Pfister (6-2) and Team Stjerne (7-6) set up an A-Road final against Team Ulsrud – and the Scots triumphed, scoring three in end six and taking one with hammer in the extra end to edge it 7-6.

Compatriots Team Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan), meanwhile, kicked off with a 7-3 defeat of Team Bangerter and then saw off Team Wunderlin 6-3, only to then be pipped 4-3 by Ulsrud – and then drop to the C-Road after being beaten 8-7 by another Norwegian rink, Team Walstad.

Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) have been the outstanding Scottish rink so far this season, and they started with a 6-4 win over Team Jungen – but were knocked down to the B-Road after losing 7-5 to Team Gushue (skipped by Mark Nichols, with Pat Simmons at skip).

As for Team Mouat, they were without their skip and so they welcomed back their team-mate from last season Duncan Menzies to join Bobby Lammie, Gregor Cannon and Alasdair Schreiber.

They began with a 6-3 victory over Team Lottenbach, but lost 8-4 to Team Edin in their next match.

Wins for Mouat (6-5 versus Team Daniel, stealing four in end five) and Smith (8-2 against Team Kauste, scoring threes in ends one and two) set up a clash between the two – and it went to an extra end, where Mouat stole one to win 6-5.

But Mouat faced Edin again in their next B-Road match, and again the Swedes won – 6-2 – to send the Scots onto the C-Road, where Brewster had beaten Team Meister 4-3 and Smith overcame Jan Hess 6-2.

One defeat away from going home, all three Scottish rinks won their next matches – Brewster 9-3 against Team Attinger, Mouat 4-3 versus Team Van Dorp (after an extra end) and Smith 5-3 over Team Retornaz.

Mouat secured their quarter-final place by beating Team Sik 6-4, while Brewster and Smith met in a winner-takes-all match.

Brewster started well, with three in end three, but Smith scored two in end four and stole one in end five to tip the balance their way – then took one with hammer in end eight for a 5-4 victory.

Come the quarter-finals, Mouat and Murdoch met head-on. It was a tight affair initially, 2-2 after five ends, but Murdoch scored three in end six and Mouat couldn’t recover, going down 5-3.

Smith, meanwhile, faced Ulsrud and were in trouble when the Norwegians scored three in end four to lead 5-3. But Smith responded with three in end five, from where the teams exchanged ones into an extra end – Smith, holding hammer, scored one to win it 8-7.

Murdoch then sealed their spot in the final by scoring twos in ends four and six as they saw off Team De Cruz 5-3.

But Smith couldn’t join them, as they fell just short against Edin, who’d beaten Gushue in the quarters. A tight semi-final match turned on the Swedes’ steal of two in end six, the Scots being edged out 5-4.

Edin, who had battled into the playoffs via the C-Road, draw first blood in the final with three in end three, leading 3-2 at halfway. They went 5-2 up with two in end six, and although Murdoch claimed two of their own in end seven, it was Edin’s match, 5-4.

“We felt coming into Basel this weekend that we had all practised well and that showed in the confidence we had all weekend,” said skip David Murdoch.

“With the Euro Playdowns in just over a week it’s a good time to be hitting form. We had consistency and to be undefeated heading into the final in a strong field is the level we are looking to maintain. We can’t wait to get started in Perth.”

A strong competition from the Scottish rinks, then – especially for Murdoch in their best run of 2016-17 so far. To have three teams flying the Saltire in the last eight, against a quality field, is very encouraging with the season hotting up, and Europeans and Grand Slams fast approaching.

***

The latest leg of the Asham Under-21 Slam, the Kinross Junior Classic, involved 12 men’s teams and eight women’s.

Team Whyte (Ross Whyte, Callum Kinnear, Ryan McCormack, Duncan McFadzean) finished first in men’s section A, having beaten Drummond 16-4, Joiner 7-2 and Carson 6-5.

Section B was topped by Team Bryce (Cameron Bryce, Robin Brydone, Euan Kyle, Frazer Shaw) who defeated Cormack 10-6, Lockhart 8-3 and Barr 8-4; Team Barr (Grant Barr, Zack Stewart, Kerr Sands, Alistair Middleston) also made it into the semi-finals by overcoming Lockhart 10-3 and Cormack 10-7.

And it was Team McNay (Cameron McNay, Fin Campbell, James Baird, Angus Bryce) who qualified from section C, winning against Baird (5-3), Moodie (9-5) and Craik (6-3).

On the women’s side, Team Davie (Lisa Davie, Kirsty Barr, Annabel Skuse, Emma Barr) were first in section A after defeating Keen 11-3, Jackson 9-4 and Dakers 13-3; Team Jackson (Sophie Jackson, Naomi Brown, Mili Smith, Sophie Sinclair) also got into the last four with wins against Dakers (16-3) and Keen (8-4).

In women’s section B, Team Aitken (Karina Aitken, Rebecca Morrison, Hailey Duff, Laura Barr) came out on top, beating Farmer 7-5, MacDonald 6-3 and Hunter 12-3; they were joined in making it through by Team MacDonald (Amy MacDonald, Ellie Hamilton, Amy Bryce, Layla Al-Saffar), victors against Hunter (16-4) and Farmer (7-5).

Come the semi-finals, Bryce scored three in end one and beat McNay 6-3, while Whyte notched twos in ends one, three and seven in defeating Barr 7-4.

As for the women, Aitken gained revenge over Jackson (having lost to them at Greenacres), stealing two in end eight to win 5-2, and in the other semi MacDonald stole six points in the first three ends in seeing off Davie 8-2.

Whyte were looking to turn the tables on Bryce in the men’s final, being beaten by them in finals in Braehead and Greenacres, but again Bryce triumphed – a steal of one in end three and two in end eight underpinning their 4-1 victory.

Aitken took the spoils in the women’s final, scoring three in end six to lead 5-3 but being taken to an extra end by MacDonald – Aitken taking one with hammer for a 6-5 win.

In the 3v4 matches, Barr beat McNay 11-6 and Jackson had a 7-3 win over Davie.

***

Finally, Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat have battled their way into the playoffs at the Canad Inns Mixed Doubles Championship in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba – hence why Mouat wasn’t with his team in Basel!

From 9-5 down in their opener, they scored three in end seven and stole three in end eight to beat Kimberly Tuck/Wayne Tuck Jr 11-9, but were knocked onto the B-Road by a 5-4 loss against Julia Portunova/Sergei Glukhov of Russia.

There they scored four in end eight in beating Katie Cottrill/Shawn Cottrill 9-5, before seeing off Julia Hunter/Alex Robichaud 7-2 and then Rui Wang/De Xin Ba of China 7-5.

That set up a B-Road final with Donda-Lee Deis/Ryan Deis, the Scots scoring four in end three on their way to a 9-6 victory.

Follow Aitken/Mouat’s playoffs progress today from 3pm UK time here.