Scotland win World Women’s bronze as Canada sweep the board

muirhead world bronze
Scotland’s bronze medal winners: Glenn Howard, Kelly Schafer, Lauren Gray, Vicki Adams, Anna Sloan, Eve Muirhead (pic: twitter.com/evemuirhead)

Scotland’s Team Muirhead ended a see-saw week at the World Curling Championships with a bronze medal, a positive outcome from a competition that had seen Team Homan prove just too good for everyone else.

At one point the Scots looked unlikely to even make the playoffs, so for them to add another international medal to the Muirhead mantelpiece was a big plus ahead of next year’s Olympic Games.

Also this weekend, the Dumfries Mixed Doubles took place, with Camilla and Per Noreen of Sweden coming out on top.

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Twelve teams battled it out at the 2017 World Women’s Curling Championships in Beijing, with playoff and Olympic qualification at stake.

Scotland (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer (alternate), Glenn Howard (coach)) had a dramatic start to the week, stealing ones in end 10 and then the extra end to beat the USA 9-8.

But after that point they struggled to find momentum. They went down to a surprise 7-6 defeat against Italy, and although they hit back by beating Russia 10-7 (scoring three in end one and stealing four in end four) and Denmark 7-2, they then suffered three successive defeats – against Sweden 7-3, Korea 10-6 and Canada 8-2.

Sitting at W3 L4, it was win or bust for Scotland from here on. They overcame the hosts China – who had a surprisingly poor week in front of their home crowd, only winning twice – by an 8-6 scoreline, and suddenly it was back on.

Switzerland, who started the week well but faded, were the Scots’ next victims, beaten 7-4 with a three in end nine and steal of one in the 10th, and once Germany were dispatched 7-2 the Muirhead rink found themselves one win away from making the playoffs alongside runway leaders Canada (W11 L0 in the round robin), Russia and Sweden.

The Czech Republic stood in their way, a team eyeing up a playoff spot themselves – the Czechs scored twos in ends five and seven to lead into the 1oth, but a superb draw behind a centre guard from skip Eve Muirhead, and a miss from counterpart Anna Kubeskova, set up the peel for two – which Muirhead made to win it 7-6.

That ensured Olympic qualification for Scotland (as Team GB) for Pyeongchang 2018, and after a Friday off the Scots faced Sweden in the 3v4 page playoff, a must-win match with a semi-final against Russia the reward for the victor.

It was Sweden (Team Hasselborg) who grabbed that chance, stealing one in end two and going on to score two in end six and three in end eight to win 8-5 and extinguish Scottish hopes of making the final.

But the two teams met again in the bronze medal match, Sweden having lost the semi to Russia, and it was third time lucky for Muirhead against Hasselborg in Beijing.

The teams traded ones and twos up to end nine, where Muirhead claimed a steal of one – and then did the same in end 10, both times forcing Anna Hasselborg to play tough, tough final stones and therefore winning it 6-4.

Taking a medal from a tough field was a good result for the Scots, skip Muirhead saying: “We’re absolutely delighted and that was a really strong team performance.

“We really wanted that medal.  It’s been a tough week, with a lot of ups and a lot of downs so to come away with a medal is really quite satisfying.

She added: “That was my first bronze, I’ve got world gold, silver and bronze now, so I’m delighted and it’s good to have a solid Worlds going into the Olympic Games.

“It takes a lot to come back and win bronze, it’s one of the toughest medals for a team to win.

“We’d be too greedy if we thought we should have had more this week, because I think the two best teams are in the final.”

The final saw Canada’s Team Homan do what no other side had done at a World Women’s Championships – go the entire week undefeated.

Russia (Team Sidorova) could not stay with them, giving up a two in end two, a steal of one in end three and then three in end six.

A two for Russia in end seven brought it back to end 6-3, but they knew it wasn’t their day when skip Anna Sidorova didn’t release her final stone of end eight before the hog-line and Rachel Homan drew in for two and an 8-3 victory that sealed the gold medals.

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Back in Scotland, a Curling Champions Tour event – the Dumfries Mixed Doubles – was taking place, with 24 teams participating.

Sorted into four pools of six teams, there was good British representation – with English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh pairings involved – but only the mixed doubles big-hitters of Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat (first in Pool C, with a W5 L0 record), and Judith and Lee McCleary (second in Pool B, W3 L2) made the knockout stages.

The two remaining Scottish rinks met head-on in the quarter-finals, and on this occasion it was the McClearys who came out on top, stealing one in end three then scoring three in end five and four in end seven to triumph 9-3.

But McCleary/McCleary fell in the semi-finals, as Swedish pair Camilla and Per Noreen took two with hammer in end eight to win 6-5.

The McClearys did claim third, though, stealing one in the first end, scoring two in the third and stealing another one in end six on their way to beating Anastasia Bryzgalova/Alexander Krushelnitsky of Russia 6-3.

Noreen/Noreen took the title, scoring four in end four as they defeated Irantzu Garcia/Gontzal Garcia Vez (Spain) 7-3 in the final.

World Women’s Curling Championship preview

Team Muirhead  1 - Tom J Brydone
Team Muirhead – L-R: Sarah Reid, Vicki Adams, Anna Sloan, Eve Muirhead (photo: Tom J Brydone (facebook.com/brydoneimages))

The Ford World Women’s Curling Championship begins on Saturday in Swift Current, Canada, with Eve Muirhead’s Scottish rink gunning for gold.

What are their chances, and which teams are most likely to rival them for the podium placings?

For answers to these questions, and other details about the forthcoming tournament, read on…

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Scotland (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid, Rachel Hannen (alternate)) are looking to improve on their fourth-place finish from last year, and take the gold as they did in Riga, Latvia, in 2013 (with Claire Hamilton at lead).

As an ambitious rink, they are aiming for nothing less, and have a genuine chance of achieving it – not least because they are playing better as a team than this time last season.

Last season they struggled somewhat as they integrated Reid into the team and, having won an Olympic bronze medal from Sochi, they were an even bigger scalp for teams to aim for than before.

Having said that, they did win the Canadian Open, Players’ Championship and overall Rogers Cup on the Grand Slam of Curling Tour, as well as European Championships bronze.

In 2015-16, they’ve made the Stockholm Ladies Cup final, semi-finals at the Women’s Masters Basel and GSOC Canadian Open, and won silver at Europeans.

The progress on the ice is there – their run to the European Championship final was a confident one, and they were unbeaten at last month’s Scottish Championships in Perth to qualify for Worlds – so a podium spot in Swift Current must be their minimum expectation.

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Another boost for the Muirhead rink is that the 2015 gold and silver medallists (Team Pätz of Switzerland and Team Jones of Canada) did not qualify for Worlds this year.

Nor did Teams Homan and Tirinzoni, two of the teams on the best form on tour this season.

However, it is still a quality field, not least for the representatives from Canada and Switzerland.

Team Carey of Alberta dominated the Scotties round robin stage before beating defending champion Jones in the 1v2 playoff and then Team McCarville of Northern Ontario in the final.

It might be skip Chelsea Carey’s debut on the Worlds stage, but her rink is an experienced one – and if they can continue their consistently high level from the Scotties they will be hard to beat.

Team Feltscher of Switzerland have plenty of pedigree in this event, winning gold in 2014. They’ve not had an outstanding year on tour – Tirinzoni’s ladies have been the most successful Swiss rink in 2015-16, while Pätz represented Switzerland at Europeans.

But by defeating Tirinzoni and Pätz to reach Swift Current, Feltscher have forced themselves into consideration as real contenders.

And then there’s Team Sidorova of Russia, who’ve been something of a nemesis for Muirhead this season.

It was Sidorova who pipped Muirhead to gold in Esbjerg, and beat them in the quarter-finals of the Bernese Ladies Cup (themselves going out in the semis).

The Russians have also made the final of the ZO International, plus the semi-finals at the Glynhill International.

Should the team perform as they did in Esbjerg, skip Anna Sidorova playing brilliantly throughout the week, they are another team very much in the running for gold.

Teams Nielsen (Denmark) and Kauste (Finland) will look to push on from strong showings at Europeans in November, where they finished fourth and third respectively.

Team Sigfridsson of Sweden, meanwhile, bring plenty of experience – this is their eighth appearance at Worlds, finishing runners-up to Muirhead in 2013 – and they made finals at the Bernese Ladies Cup and Glynhill International to show they’re capable of a strong run.

The USA’s representatives, Team Brown, are also making their eighth appearance – and performed well at the Continental Cup earlier this year – while such is the growing quality of the Pacific Asia Championships that the teams from Japan and South Korea are also more than capable of pulling off some shocks – not least with precious qualification points for the 2018 Olympics at stake.

So while the safest bets to qualify from the round robin look to be Canada, Russia, Scotland and Switzerland, there can be no assurances. The favourites have to play well throughout the week… if they don’t, plans to peak in the playoffs will prove pointless.

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This is the second time Swift Current has hosted the World Women’s Championship, having seen Andrea Schöpp and Germany take gold (beating Muirhead’s Scots in the final) in 2010.

The 12 teams at the event will play in 17 round robin sessions from Saturday, March 19 through to Thursday, March 24.

Following tiebreakers (if needed) to determine the top four teams, there will be 1v2 and 3v4 page playoffs, then a semi-final, before the gold and bronze medal games on Sunday, March 27.

Scotland begin their campaign against Sweden on Saturday evening (or Sunday morning, 1am, UK time!), before facing Korea and Germany the following day.

Unfortunately there is a distinct lack of streaming of Scotland’s games, with fans having to wait until the 15th round robin draw on Thursday – a match against Japan – for World Curling TV coverage.

You can of course follow the linescores throughout the week (as well as team details, action photos etc) here, while there will be updates on the Royal Caledonian Curling Club website, as well as the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter.

Women’s Masters Basel: Playoff pain for Teams Fleming and Muirhead

The two Scottish teams at the Women’s Masters Basel took very different routes to the last eight, but there was defeat for Team Fleming in the quarter finals and Team Muirhead in the semis.

While Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid) won all three of their games on the opening day to book a spot in Sunday’s playoffs, Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Lorna Vevers, Alice Spence, Abi Brown) had to fight their way through the C-road to make it.

Team Muirhead secured their quarter-final place with wins over Team Hegner of Switzerland (3-2) and the Swedish teams Hasselborg (6-2) and Sigfridsson (8-7).

For Team Fleming, Friday was a more up-and-down day. After beating Team Palancsa of Hungary 6-3, they were beaten 8-5 by the Russians Team Sidorova.

That knocked them down to the B-road, and that soon became the C-road after a 6-4 loss to Team Dupont of Denmark.

Another defeat on Saturday would see them eliminated, but they kept their cool and recorded wins over Teams Stern of Switzerland (8-4) and Nielsen of Denmark (5-2).

That set up a decisive match on Saturday evening against Team Moiseeva of Russia – and it was Team Fleming who made it into the last eight, a steal of four in end two crucial in their 7-2 win.

While Team Fleming were fighting for survival, Team Muirhead were playing a skins game against one of the other direct quarter-final qualifiers, Team Tirinzoni, which you can watch here – if you’re unfamiliar with the rules of skins play, watching a game is the best way to get to grips with it.

Team Muirhead took the first five skins, and 1,500 Swiss francs, before Tirinzoni finished the game by claiming the sixth skin and with it 600 Swiss francs.

Onto Sunday, and the playoffs. Team Muirhead were forced into a change due to Sarah Reid suffering a ‘lower body injury’, so organising committee member Janine Greiner came in at lead for their match with Team Pätz.

Team Muirhead looked in trouble when they gave up three in end five, but they responded with a three of their own in end six and won the game 5-4.

Team Fleming were unable to follow them into the semi finals, however, going down 5-2 to in-form GSOC Tour Challenge winners Team Tirinzoni.

The last four saw Team Muirhead paired with Team Sidorova, and it was the Russians who came out on top, a steal of one in end five proving pivotal as they won 5-4.

Team Sidorova went on to win the title, coming from 4-0 down to beat Tirinzoni with a three in end eight securing an unlikely 7-6 victory. Watch that final here.

So having both impressed this weekend, Teams Fleming and Muirhead now focus on the European qualifiers from Wednesday.

Can Team Fleming carry their good form into those playdowns and give real concern to Team Muirhead, for whom Sarah Reid is now an injury doubt?