2017-18 curling season preview

Olympic Curling Teams - Perthshire Picture Agency - Graeme HartTHE CHOSEN ONES: Great Britain’s men’s and women’s curlers for Pyeongchang 2018 (Team Muirhead and Team Smith). Pic: British Curling/Graeme Hart

Who said anything about a quiet summer break?

There have been some huge changes in the landscape of Scottish curling over the last few months.

There’s the personnel changes, of course.

David Murdoch’s playing days are over, with one of the stalwarts of the Scottish game retiring from competitive curling and switching to coaching.

The subsequent reshuffles have thrown up some intriguing team combinations for the new season.

Murdoch’s third Greg Drummond has moved up to skip, piloting a rink which also consists of Ross Paterson, Gregor Cannon and Michael Goodfellow.

Heading in the opposite direction to Paterson is Scott Andrews, who joins an all-new Team Brewster, with Tom Brewster also welcoming Duncan Menzies and Alasdair Schreiber to his quartet.

Team Bryce have added Ross Whyte to their roster, while Bruce Mouat’s new rink has a bit of a rockstar look to it.

Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan are all on board – it’s a team packed with talent, so I’m excited to see what they can do in Scotland and on tour this year.

There are changes on the women’s side too, notably Sochi 2014 medallist Claire Hamilton coming into skip Gina Aitken’s team – Aitken moving to third in place of Rowena Kerr.

Some teams have stuck with the same formula of course, including the rinks selected to represent Great Britain at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang (oh yes, it’s an Olympic year!) – Team Muirhead and Team Smith.

There have of course been changes outside of the teams themselves, including the opening of the National Curling Academy in Stirling, which will hopefully see Scotland/Britain keep up with the world’s top – and emerging – curling nations.

The Curling Champions Tour and World Curling Tour have merged, and – closer to home – it’s good news to see the Scottish Curling Tour expand and gain a swanky new website.

Scotland (Aberdeen to be exact) will host the 2018 World Junior Championships, which can hopefully build on the interest generated by the Olympics (the countdown to #lovecurling trending again is underway…) the month before.

The Olympics have pulling power that individual winter sports can only dream of, so it’s vital that curling (Scottish curling in particular) uses its events this year to draw more fans, and maybe the next generation of players, to the game.

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Last week gave us a taste of what’s to come, with Teams Bryce and Jackson representing Scotland at the latest ‘Curling Night in America’ event in Omaha, while Judith and Lee McCleary flew the Saltire at the Audi quattro Winter Games in New Zealand (making the quarter-finals but losing to eventual champions Estonia).

This weekend sees things move up a gear. The first Grand Slam event of the season is on the horizon – the Tour Challenge (Tiers 1 and 2), on September 5-10 – and so there are four Scottish rinks over in Canada.

Teams Brewster, Drummond, Mouat and Smith will all fight it out for the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, with eyes on Smith in particular.

Victory in Oakville (in the Oakville OCT Fall Classic) was one of the highlights in an impressively consistent (also consistently impressive) season which saw them get the nod for the Olympics.

How will they handle that extra pressure as Pyeonchang approaches? They’re still a young team, but they’ve been together for a long time and they know how to beat the world’s best.

Eve Muirhead has described an Olympic appearance (and medal) as putting a target on your back, and we’ll get our first chance to see the Team GB women at the Tour Challenge in Regina, where Team Fleming will also compete.

Excited yet? You should be. The changes over the summer simply add another dynamic to what promises to be a thrilling Olympic season.

January 2017 curling preview

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Team Murdoch are among the rinks who kick off their 2017 at the Perth Masters (photo: British Curling/Tom J Brydone)

2017 has arrived and, with the Christmas break over, the curling competition calendar fills up again.

A Grand Slam, the Scottish Juniors Championship and two major events on Scottish soil – the Perth Masters and Glynhill Ladies International – are excellent appetisers for the Scottish Championships in February.

Here’s a guide to what’s coming up…

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Meridian Canadian Open (Grand Slam of Curling)
January 3-8, North Battleford, Saskatchewan (Canada)
Team Smith are the sole Scots competing in the latest stop on the Grand Slam tour. They had an excellent first half of the season, and this is another chance for the young team to test themselves against the world’s best – Edin, Epping (the holders), Gushue, Jacobs, Koe et al – in a triple knockout format. Teams Hasselborg, Homan (the reigning champs), Jones, Sidorova and Tirinzoni are among those competing in the women’s section. Follow the competition here.

World Junior-B Curling Championships 2017 (World Curling Federation)
January 3-10, Oestersund (Sweden)
Team Jackson, having been relegated to the Junior B-Division last season, have the chance to redeem themselves by getting Scotland back up to the top table of junior women’s curling. Placed in a group with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Romania and Spain, they will hope to make the knockout stages, with the top three qualifying for WJCC 2017 in Gangneung, Korea, next month. Selected games are being shown on World Curling TV, and you can follow scores here.

Mercure Perth Masters (Curling Champions Tour)
January 5-8, Perth
Thirty-two men’s rinks – coming in from across the world, from China to Switzerland – descend on Perth for this Curling Champions Tour event, which is in a triple knockout format. Ten of those 32 are Scottish, including Teams Brewster, Bryce, Hardie, Mouat and Murdoch. There’s no guarantee of a home victory, mind you, especially when the likes of Teams De Cruz (Switzerland), Kauste (Finland), Morozumi (Japan) and last year’s finalists Ulsrud (Norway) are in town. Scores can be found here and live streaming here.

Scottish Curling Senior Men’s Championship qualifiers (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
January 6-8, Ayr and Forfar
Curlers aged over 50 take to the ice in Ayr and Forfar aiming to qualify for the Senior Championships in February – the winners of which will represent Scotland at Worlds in Lethbridge, Canada, in April. In these men’s qualifiers the holders, skipped by Gordon Muirhead, are back again to defend their title. Follow the scores here and here.

Scottish Junior Curling Club Challenge (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
January 7-8, Murrayfield
An event open to junior curling clubs, it consists of three divisions, with clubs being promoted and relegated between divisions depending on their performance. Each club entry is represented by two teams – they must field a minimum of two females, and the club entry takes a combined score from the results of their teams. Follow the event here.

Bernese Ladies Cup (Curling Champions Tour)
January 12-15, Bern (Switzerland)
Bern welcomes 32 women’s rinks – including three from Scotland – for a triple knockout competition. The Scots all have Swiss opposition up first – Team Fleming have been drawn against Keiser, Team Muirhead versus Mathis and Team Smith with Hegner. Other rinks to look out for include Teams Flaxey (Canada), Moiseeva (Russia), Sigfridsson (Sweden), Tirinzoni (the defending champions, of Switzerland) and Wang (China). Follow scores from this tournament here.

Dutch Masters Mixed Doubles (Curling Champions Tour)
January 13-15, Zoetermeer (Netherlands)
Gina Aitken/Bruce Mouat and Judith McCleary/Lee McCleary, Scotland’s premier mixed doubles teams, are among 20 rinks to take part in this competition in the Netherlands. Teams play group matches to decide who’ll make the knockout stages. As well as many of the world’s mixed doubles mainstays, there are duos from England – Anna Fowler/Ben Fowler – and Ireland – Alison Fyfe/Neil Fyfe – involved too. You can keep up to date with the event here, and games will also be live streamed on the Champions Curling Tour YouTube channel.

Scottish Curling Junior Championships (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
January 18-22, Aberdeen
Team Jackson look to retain their junior women’s title and (depending on how they get on at the World Junior-B Championships earlier in the month) go to Worlds. Their main competition looks to be Team K Aitken, but Teams Davie and MacDonald are also in with a shout. There will definitely be a new champion on the junior men’s side though – Team Mouat are aged out, so Teams Bryce and Whyte are the frontrunners for tournament victory and Worlds qualification. Event scores will be shown here.

Ceramtec German Masters (Curling Champions Tour)
January 19-22, Hamburg (Germany)
Twenty-four teams, separated into six groups, are in Germany for this men’s competition – including the holders, Team Murdoch. The other Scots participating are Teams Brewster, Mouat and Smith. Their main rivals look to include Teams Bottcher, De Cruz, Stjerne, Ulsrud and Van Dorp. The live scores will be posted here.

Glynhill Ladies International (Curling Champions Tour)
January 19-22, Braehead
There are also 24 teams registered for what is becoming another major event in Scotland, this time for the women. Teams G Aitken, Fleming, Muirhead and Smith fly the flag for Scotland in Braehead, while reigning champions Team Tirinzoni return. Teams Feltscher, Kubeskova, Moiseeva, Paetz and Sigfridsson also join the party, which consists of pool stages (four sections) then knockout stages. The event website is here, with live streaming also planned here.

Asham Under 14 Slam – Intu Braehead (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
January 28, Braehead
The second of three events in the U14 Slam series is being held in Braehead, with best of four end games. The previous competition, at Forfar, saw the high road final won by Team Gallacher. For more information on the event as it takes place, see this page.

Four Nations (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
January 28-29, Greenacres
Rinks from across the British Isles descend on Greenacres (Howwood) for the latest Four Nations. Last season it was the Irish who took the triple crown title – which of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales will come top of the pile this time around? The event page is here.

28th Winter Universiade (International University Sports Federation)
January 29-February 8, Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Finally, we have the World University Winter Games held in Kazakhstan. Curlers to have taken part in this event in just the past few years include Brendan Bottcher, Oskar Eriksson, Hannah Fleming, Anna Sidorova, Anna Sloan and Kyle Smith. This time round it’s Gregor Cannon, Bobby Lammie, Bruce Mouat, Alasdair Schreiber and Derrick Sloan (men’s) and Gina Aitken, Rachael Halliday, Rachel Hannen, Rowena Kerr and Angharad Ward (women’s) who are representing Team Great Britain. The event website is here.

November curling preview

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The European Championships are coming to Scotland this month – photo: facebook.com/royalcaledoniancurlingclub

The European Curling Championships are in Braehead this month – what, you hadn’t heard? That’s the really big one, but what else is going on through November? Read on…

CookstownCash (World Curling Tour)
Dates: November 3-6
Number of teams: 40 (30 men’s; 10 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Smith
Last year’s winners: Team De Cruz (Switzerland)
Website: worldcurl.com/events.php?eventid=4337

Team Smith take on a host of local rinks in Cookstown, Ontario, as well as big-hitters such as Team Epping, Team Howard and Team De Cruz (defending champions). The competition begins with a pool stage ahead of knockouts – Smith are in Pool D with Teams Bailey, Gordon, Robillard and Ross.

Edinburgh International Curling Championship (Scottish Curling Tour)
Dates: November 4-6
Number of teams: 18
Scottish teams: Team Bryce, Team Fraser, Team Hardie, Team MacDonald, Team Mouat
Last year’s winners: Team Hardie
Website: murrayfieldinternational.com

The Goldline Scottish Curling Tour’s third event of the season takes place at Murrayfield Curling in the capital. Hardie look to defend their title against home opposition and some more than capable challengers from abroad – chief among them 2016 World silver medallists Team Stjerne – with entries coming from the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Norway, Poland, Switzerland and Wales.

Inverness Junior International (Asham U21 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 4-6
Number of teams: 18 (10 boys’; 8 girls’)
Last year’s winners: Team Brydone; Team Murray
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/asham-under-21-slam-inverness-junior-international-4/

Usual suspects on the Scottish circuit Team Bryce and Team Jackson are not taking part in this U21 Slam, which allows the likes of Team Whyte (boys’ side), Team K Aitken and Team MacDonald (girls’) the opportunity to take advantage by gaining vital ranking points.

World Wheelchair-B Curling Championship (World Curling Federation)
Dates: November 4-6
Number of teams: 16
Last year’s winners: Norway
Website: worldcurling.org/wwhcc2017

Lohja in Finland hosts the Wheelchair-B Championship, where Scotland are represented by 2014 Winter Paralympic bronze medallist Aileen Neilson (skip), Gregor Ewan, Hugh Nibloe, Robert McPherson and Angie Malone (alternate) – and hope to improve on last season’s fifth-place finish. England, skipped by Rosemary Lenton, also compete.

Pacific-Asia Curling Championships (World Curling Federation)
Dates: November 5-12
Number of teams: 17 (9 men’s; 8 women’s)
Last year’s winners: Soo Hyuk Kim (Korea); Satsuki Fujisawa (Japan)
Website: worldcurling.org/pacc2016

With curling’s focus being steadily pulled eastwards both by the strength of Asian teams in world competitions and the location of the 2018 Winter Olympics, this event in Uiseong, South Korea, is one to watch. The women’s rinks of Bingyu Wang (China), Satsuki Fujisawa (Japan) and Kim Eunjung (Korea) make for a fearsome threesome and the competition between them is likely to be fierce. Rui Liu (China) and Yusuke Morozumi (Japan) are among those on the men’s side.

National Masters Curling Championship – Qualifiers (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 8-10
Number of teams: 30
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/national-masters-curling-championship-qualifiers/

Greenacres hosts the qualifying event for the National Masters Curling Championship, with Scottish curlers over the age of 60 eligible to take part. Thirty rinks in six sections are expected to compete for those qualification spots.

Tour Challenge (Grand Slam of Curling)
Dates: November 8-13
Number of teams: 60 (30 men’s; 30 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Murdoch, Team Smith (tier 1), Team Brewster, Team Mouat (tier 2); Team Fleming (tier 2)
Last year’s winners: Team Koe (tier 1), Team Cotter (tier 2); Team Tirinzoni (tier 1), Team Einarson (tier 2)
Website: thegrandslamofcurling.com

Grand Slams are like buses, apparently. Two in very quick succession! After the Masters in Okotoks, Alberta, it’s time for the Tour Challenge in Cranbrook, British Columbia. Teams Murdoch and Smith go in tier 1, where Team Edin will look to make it a Swedish double after taking the Masters. Teams Brewster and Mouat are in tier 2, while Team Fleming compete in women’s tier 2.

Forfar Open (Scottish Curling Tour)
Dates: November 11-13
Last year’s winners: Team Mouat; Team Jackson
Website: scottishcurlingtour.blogspot.co.uk

Forfar Indoor Sports’ unique competition – the sole Scottish Curling Tour event with a women’s section – returns. Team Mouat won’t be there to defend their title (see above), nor will Team Jackson (see below), so there’ll be two new champions this season.

World Junior Women’s B Playdown (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 11-13
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/world-junior-b-playdown/

Karina Aitken and Sophie Jackson’s rinks will battle it out over a best-of-five series to fly the Scottish flag at the World Junior B Curling Championships in January – and hopefully get Scotland promoted to the A-Division for next season.

ZO Women’s Tournament (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: November 11-13
Number of teams: 24
Scottish teams: Team Aitken, Team Muirhead, Team Smith
Last year’s winners: Team Feltscher (Switzerland)
Website: curling-wetzikon.ch/cms/zo-frauencurlingturnier/en/index_en.php

Team Muirhead warm up for the European Championships with this tournament in Wetzikon, Switzerland. They are joined by Teams Gina Aitken and Hazel Smith, as well as the likes of Teams Feltscher (Switzerland), Nielsen (Denmark) and Sidorova (Russia). There are four pools of six teams, with playoffs on the Sunday.

The Baljaffray Trophy (Asham U17 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 12-13
Number of teams: 24
Last year’s winners: Team Whyte
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/asham-under-17-slam-the-baljaffray-trophy-3/

Greenacres hosts the latest round of the U17 Slam series. Teams Craik, Haswell and Kinnear will once again be expected to challenge for this title and ranking points, with overall winners gaining entry to a World Curling Federation junior curling camp in Germany next year.

Mixed Doubles Bern (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: November 18-20
Number of teams: 32
Scottish teams: Gina Aitken/Bruce Mouat, Judith McCleary/Lee McCleary
Website: curlingbern.ch/turniere/2016-2017/1-mixed-doubles-bern/

Two Scottish pairs travel to Switzerland for this inaugural mixed doubles event, to challenge alongside 30 other teams including Szekeres/Nagy (Hungary), Bryzgalova/Krusheinitcki (Russia) and Perret/Rios (Switzerland). There are qualification matches, playoffs and a consolation cup.

 Red Deer Curling Classic (World Curling Tour)
Dates: November 18-21
Number of teams: 54 (32 men’s; 22 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Murdoch, Team Smith; Team Fleming
Last year’s winners: Team Lizmore; Team Rocque
Website: worldcurl.com/events.php?eventid=4233

Red Deer, Alberta, hosts this major World Curling Tour event (triple knockout format), with the three Scottish rinks taking part being the losing teams at the European Playdowns last month. Look out for the likes of Teams Bottcher, Koe, Carey and Rocque on the men’s and women’s sides.

European Curling Championships (World Curling Federation)
Dates: November 19-26
Number of teams: 46 (26 men’s; 20 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Brewster; Team Muirhead
Last year’s winners: Team Edin (Sweden); Team Sidorova (Russia)
Website: worldcurling.org/ecc2016

It’s almost here! Braehead hosts the Europeans, with 46 teams in men’s and women’s A and B-Divisions. Can Team Brewster build on their last performance at Worlds? Will Team Edin reign supreme again (they’re on brilliant form)? Can Team Muirhead go one better than in Esbjerg, with Team Sidorova failing to qualify? Or is it time for Team Hasselborg’s true international arrival? So many questions, so many top curlers – let’s hope they attract big crowds.

Team Smith triumph at Oakville OCT Fall Classic

smith oakville
Team Smith: Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, coach Viktor Kjall, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith (photo courtesy of Jonathan Brazeau/Sportsnet)

Team Smith claimed the Oakville OCT Fall Classic men’s title and $3,000 prize money by defeating Team McCormick of the USA 7-2 in the final.

While fellow Scots Team Mouat exited with a W1 L3 record at the pool stage of the World Curling Tour event in Ontario, Smith went unbeaten throughout.

Back across the Atlantic, meanwhile, there was double Scottish success at the Braehead Junior International – Teams Bryce and Jackson winning the boys’ and girls’ competitions respectively in their first competitions after line-up changes.

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Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) came into the Oakville OCT Fall Classic off the back of a run to the quarter-finals at the Baden Masters in Switzerland, and hit their stride in Canada straight away.

They began the round robin pool stage by beating Team Birr 4-2 (with a pivotal steal of one in end five), then saw off Team Ferris 6-3 with a three in end eight.

Passage to the quarter-finals was secured with two further victories, against Team Balsdon 8-4 (threes in ends four and eight) and Team Murphy (three in end six).

Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Derrick Sloan, Gregor Cannon), in contrast to Smith, altered their line-up over the summer (Sloan coming in) and this was their first competition of the 2016-17 season.

They opened with a 7-4 loss to Team Brown, giving up a four in end two, before enjoying a comfortable 8-1 win over Team Stewart, stealing four in end seven.

However, narrow defeats to Team Krell (7-6) and Team McCormick (8-7) saw them exit the competition on a W1 L3 record. They don’t have to wait long to put that behind them though – they’re back in action this coming weekend, in Stu Sells Oakville Tankard tier 2.

In the quarter-finals, Smith started poorly, giving up a steal of two in end one versus Team Deruelle, but responded with a two and then a massive steal of five. The match was over after six ends, Smith the winners 8-4.

The semi-finals pitted them against Team Gardner, and the Canadians were 2-1 up after four ends. Smith scored one in end six and stole two in end seven, and although Gardner scored two in end eight, it was the Scots who took their one in the extra end to win 5-4 and make the final.

There they faced McCormick of the USA – both rinks reaching the final with W6 L0 records. But it was Smith who started like an express train, scoring two in end one and stealing singles in ends two and three.

The Americans got on the board with two in end four, but ones for Smith in ends five, six and seven handed them a 7-2 victory, $3,000 and precious tour ranking points.

Skip Kyle Smith said: “I’m really pleased with how we played. The ice has been really good and we played as well as we could really.”

Smith will look to carry this early season winning form into the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard next weekend, joined in tier 1 by fellow Scots Brewster and Murdoch.

The Oakville OCT Fall Classic women’s title was won by Team Hasselborg, who overcame Team Wrana 6-2 in an all-Swedish final.

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bryce braehead jnrs
Team Bryce: Cameron Bryce, Robin Brydone, Euan Kyle, Frazer Shaw (photo: Leslie Ingram-Brown)

In Scotland, the opening European Junior Curling Tour event of the season took place – the Braehead Junior International, which involved 12 boys’ teams and eight girls’.

Team Bryce (Cameron Bryce, Robin Brydone, Euan Kyle, Frazer Shaw) topped Pool A on the boys’ side, thanks to wins over Muskatewitz (6-1), Lottenbach (8-1) and Foss (7-2), plus peels against Ramsfjell (4-4) and Carson (6-6).

That meant they went straight into the semi-finals, whereas Teams Ramsfjell (Norway) and Carson (Luke Carson, James Carswell, George Ballantyne, Mark Taylor) finished second and third in the group and so proceeded to quarter-finals.

Pool B was won by Team Whyte (Ross Whyte, Callum Kinnear, Ryan McCormack, Duncan McFadzean), who won against Teams Schnider (8-2), Haswell (8-3), Myran (6-1) and Hoesli (7-5), and lost to Hess (5-3).

Team Haswell (Blair Haswell, Adam Keron, Cameron Paterson, Adam MacDiarmid), despite a 6-5 win over Hess of Switzerland, finished bottom of the group – Swiss rinks Hess and Schnider made it into the quarters.

On the girls’ side, the pool was headed by three Swiss teams – Witschonke, Stritt and Keiser. Scottish Teams Aitken (Karina Aitken, Rebecca Morrison, Hailey Duff, Laura Barr) and MacDonald (Amy MacDonald, Ellie Hamilton, Amy Bryce, Layla Al-Saffar) finished on W2 D1 L2 records to sit fourth and fifth.

Behind them, defending champions Team Jackson (Sophie Jackson, Naomi Brown, Mili Smith, Sophie Sinclair) squeezed into the quarter-finals having won two (against Davie and Keiser) and lost three (to MacDonald, Witschonke and Stritt).

In the quarter-finals, Hess scored three in end six in beating Carson 6-1, while Ramsfjell defeated Schnider 8-4. As for the girls, Aitken scored three in end four to overcome MacDonald 5-4, while Jackson got two in end two and stole two in end five to defeat Keiser, also 5-4.

Bryce started their boys’ semi-final against Hess with a bang, scoring four in end one, adding a steal of three in end four to win 8-4. Whyte, meanwhile, scored twos in ends five and seven to beat Ramsfjell 5-2.

In the girls’ semis, Jackson were on a roll now and they overcame Stritt 7-4 (having been 4-1 down, they scored three in end six, stole two in end seven and another one in end eight); Aitken were unable to join them in the final, though, giving up two in end four and a steal of one in end five to lose 5-3 to Swiss junior champions Witschonke.

The boys’ final pitted two Scottish teams against each other, and Whyte stole two in end three to lead 3-1. Bryce responded with two in end four, then a steal of one in end six.

Whyte scored two in end seven, but Bryce replied with two of their own in the last end to win the match 6-5 and claim the title.

There was also Scottish success in the women’s final. Witschonke led 2-1 at halfway, but Jackson scored two in end five and stole two in end six for a 6-5 win – a remarkable success given their line-up change and their slow start to the competition, only just making the knockout stages.

Hess won the boys’ third/fourth playoff 5-4 against Ramsfjell, while Stritt beat Aitken 4-3 in the girls’ playoff.

For more photos from the event, and video interviews with skips Cameron Bryce, Sophie Jackson, Ross Whyte and Selina Witschonke, visit the event’s Facebook page here.

September 2016 curling preview

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Oakville Curling Club (photo: facebook.com/teammouat)

The Baden Masters kicked 2016-17 off as far as Scottish curling is concerned; September sees things go up a notch with a dozen competitions during the month.

Here’s a quick rundown of what the next four weeks have in store.

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Braehead Junior International (European Junior Curling Tour)
Dates: September 2-4
Number of teams: 20 (12 boys’; 8 girls’)
Scottish teams: Team Bryce, Team Carson, Team Haswell, Team Whyte; Team K Aitken, Team Davie, Team Jackson, Team MacDonald
Prize money: £2,000
Last year’s winners: Team Hess (Switzerland); Team Jackson (Scotland)
Website: http://www.curlbraehead.co.uk/ejct-2016.html

It’s a big season for Braehead, with the European Championships coming to town, and it kicks off with this international juniors competition. Teams play round robin games on Friday and Saturday, followed by semi-finals and finals on Sunday. The new-look Scottish rinks of Cameron Bryce and Ross Whyte will certainly look to challenge on the boys’ side, while Teams K Aitken and Jackson lead the Scottish girls’ title tilt.

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Oakville OCT Fall Classic (World Curling Tour)
Dates: September 2-4
Number of teams: 43 (25 men’s; 18 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Mouat, Team Smith
Prize money: $13,000 men’s; $10,000 women’s
Last year’s winners: Team Maus (Canada); Team Harrison (Canada)
Website: http://www.worldcurl.com/events.php?eventid=4300

Scottish men’s teams Mouat and Smith have travelled across to Canada to take on a strong field in a competition comprising of pools then knockouts. Mouat face Teams Brown, Stewart, Krell and McCormick; Smith, meanwhile, are up against Teams Birr, Ferris, Balsdon and Murphy. Other teams to look out for include Brady Clark and John Epping’s rinks. There are no Scottish teams in the women’s competition, but Fleury, Hasselborg and Roth are among those that are.

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HDF Insurance Shoot-Out (World Curling Tour)
Dates: September 8-11
Number of teams: 24
Scottish teams: Team G Aitken, Team Muirhead
Prize money: $32,000
Last year’s winners: Team Sweeting (Canada)
Website: http://www.worldcurl.com/events.php?eventid=4304

Gina Aitken and Eve Muirhead’s rinks kick off their season in Edmonton, Alberta. This competition is made up of a round robin pool stage then knockouts. Reigning champions Team Sweeting return, as do previous winners Team Carey and Team Lawton, alongside other dangerous opponents in Teams Driendl, Fujisawa, Rocque and more.

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Stu Sells Oakville Tankard (World Curling Tour)
Dates: September 8-11
Number of teams: 64 (20 men’s tier 1, 20 men’s tier 2; 24 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Brewster, Team Murdoch, Team Mouat, Team Smith; Team Fleming
Prize money: $27,000 men’s tier 1, $16,000 men’s tier 2; $24,000 women’s
Last year’s winners: Team Gushue (Canada) tier 1, N/A tier 2; Team Homan (Canada)
Website: http://www.worldcurl.com/events.php?eventid=4364

Teams Brewster, Murdoch and Smith are in tier 1 of the men’s competition in Ontario, which has a triple knockout format and also contains Teams Bottcher, Edin, Gushue, Laycock and Morris. In men’s tier 2, Team Mouat are contention alongside the likes of Team Clark and Team Van Dorp. As for the women’s competition, it’s here where Team Fleming kick off their season, potentially facing big names such as Sherry Middaugh, Margaretha Sigfridsson and the Swiss trio of Feltscher, Pätz and Tirinzoni across a triple knockout format.

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Team Gushue won last season’s Shorty Jenkins Classic (photo: facebook.com/TeamGushue)

AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic (World Curling Tour)
Dates: September 15-18
Number of teams: 39 (24 men’s; 15 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Brewster, Team Murdoch; Team Fleming
Prize money: $59,000 men’s; $29,500 women’s
Last year’s winners: Team Gushue (Canada); Team EunJung Kim (Korea)
Website: http://www.worldcurl.com/events.php?eventid=4313

Cornwall in Ontario hosts some of the sport’s greatest rinks for a round robin pool stage then knockouts. Teams Brewster and Murdoch are pitted against the likes of Carruthers, De Cruz (Baden Masters winners last weekend), Edin, Gushue (defending champions), Jacobs, Koe and McEwen. In other words, the very best of Canadian men’s curling. The potential games facing Team Fleming on the women’s side are just as challenging – Homan, Middaugh and Tirinzoni to name but three.

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Greenacres Junior Masters (U21 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: September 16-18
Last year’s winners: Team Whyte (Scotland); Team K Aitken (Scotland)
Website: http://competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/asham-under-21-slam-greenacres-junior-masters-3/

The opening leg in the four-part U21 Slam series sees teams compete to win this competition, and to gain points which go towards the overall Asham U21 Slam male and female titles. Last year’s overall winners were Teams Whyte and Murray.

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Colonial Square Ladies Classic (World Curling Tour)
Dates: September 16-19
Number of teams: 32
Scottish teams: Team Muirhead
Prize money: $50,000
Last year’s winners: Team McCarville
Website: http://www.worldcurl.com/events.php?eventid=4305

Saskatoon hosts this long-running major women’s event. With Stefanie Lawton, Jennifer Jones, Sherry Middaugh and Eve Muirhead among the previous skips to have won the title, and generous prize money on offer, you can expect a quality field.

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Tallinn Mixed Doubles International (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: September 22-25
Number of teams: 18
Prize money: €400
Last year’s winners: N/A
Website: http://softpeelr.com/en/tournaments/348

We’re all very excited about mixed doubles making its Olympic bow in 2018. The opening competition in the discipline takes place in Estonia, with group matches, quarter-finals, semis then final. No Scots have entered this event, but organisers Harri Lill and Marie Turmann (who are themselves competing) have still attracted a fine field for this inaugural event. Names to look out for include Oona Kauste/Tomi Rantamäki (Finland), Ildiko Szekeres/Gyorgy Nagy (Hungary) and Jenny Perret/Martin Rios (Switzerland).

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hardie braehead
Team Hardie, 2015 Braehead Open winners (photo:facebook.com/TeamHardie)

Braehead Open (Scottish Curling Tour)
Dates: September 23-25
Number of teams: 24 (space for 32)
Scottish teams (so far): Team Adam, Team Barr, Team Bryce, Team Hardie, Team Horton, Team Jamieson, Team McCall, Team Mouat, Team Taylor, Team Telfer; Team G Aitken, Team Jackson, Team McDougall, Team H Smith, Team Wilson
Prize money: £2,000
Last year’s winner: Team Hardie (Scotland)
Website: http://scottishcurlingtour.blogspot.co.uk/

Reigning champions Team Hardie headline the opening Scottish Curling Tour event of the season, alongside other strong Scottish contenders including Teams Bryce, Mouat, G Aitken and Jackson. Team Hazel Smith (including ex-Team Muirhead leads Claire Hamilton and Sarah Reid) will also compete, in addition to rinks from England, Ireland, Wales and the Czech Republic.

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Stevenson Trophy (U17 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: September 24-25
Last year’s winner: Team Kinnear (Scotland)
Website: http://competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/asham-under-17-slam-the-stevenson-trophy-2/

There are five U17 Slam events (each lasting two days), with each team’s best three results accumulated to determine the overall winners. Teams can be male, female or mixed for these events, which are made up of games of six ends. Prizes include guaranteed selection for the WCF Junior Curling Camp in Fussen, Germany, in 2017.

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Swiss Cup Basel (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: September 29-October 2
Number of teams: 32
Scottish teams: Team Brewster, Team Mouat, Team Murdoch, Team Smith
Prize money: CHF 40,500
Last year’s winners: Team Gushue (Canada)
Website: http://swisscupbasel.ch/index.php?lang=en

There’s strong Scottish representation at the Swiss Cup Basel, with Teams Brewster, Murdoch, Mouat and Smith all involved in this triple knockout competition. Brewster won this event in 2014, and Smith came joint third last year as Team Gushue of Canada picked up the title. Gushue returns to Switzerland again this time around, part of a strong field that also includes Teams De Cruz, Edin, Stjerne and Ulsrud.

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Kinross Junior Classic (U21 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: September 30-October 2
Last year’s winners: Team Bryce; Team Murray
Website: http://competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/asham-under-21-slam-kinross-junior-classic-4/

The second leg of the Asham U21 Slam brings the competition to Kinross. Team Bryce could be in the running to retain their title, but there’ll certainly be a new champion on the women’s side, with Team Murray having broken up over the summer.

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homan stockholm
Stockholm Ladies champions 2015, Team Homan (photo: facebook.com/stockholmladies)

Stockholm Ladies Cup (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: September 30-October 2
Number of teams: 20
Scottish teams: Team Fleming, Team Muirhead
Prize money: SEK270,000
Last year’s winner: Team Homan
Website: http://slcc.se/

Teams Fleming and Muirhead carry the flag for Scotland in this pool stage then knockout competition. Last year’s winners Team Homan are not returning to defend their title, but it’s still a top field. Fleming are in a pool with Teams Feltscher, Lundman, Matsamura and Sidorova, while Muirhead face Teams Hasselborg, Kim, Mani and Nielsen.

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Canad Inns Mixed Doubles Classic (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: September 30-October 3
Number of teams: 32
Scottish teams: Gina Aitken/Bruce Mouat
Prize money: $25,000
Last year’s winners: Rachel Homan/John Morris
Website: https://www.canadinns.com/about-us/in-the-community/canad-inns-in-classic/canad-inns-mixed-doubles-classic/

More mixed doubles, this time in Canada – Portage, in Manitoba, to be exact. World Mixed Doubles Championship semi-finalists Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat are one of 32 teams to compete, along with star names Rachel Homan/John Morris, Jennifer Jones/Brent Laing and Kalynn Park/Charley Thomas.

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As well as following linescores and, occasionally, YouTube coverage from these events, you can keep up to date with Scottish teams’ progress throughout September via the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter pages.

Curling 2015-16: Mid-season review

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As we wave goodbye to 2015, it’s time for a look back at some of the events and stories from the first half of the curling season, and the Scottish teams’ part in them.

For all the talk of new broom technology ruining the sport, there was still a great deal that was familiar: brilliant events, Canadian Grand Slam dominance and Team Edin winning the biggest prizes…

Edin and Sidorova conquer Europeans
Esbjerg, Denmark, was the setting for the 2015 European Curling Championships and did a great job – competitors praised the ice, the volunteers and the fact that the A and B arenas were on the same site.

Scotland’s representatives were Team Smith for the men’s section and Team Muirhead in the women’s.

Smith had seen off Teams Brewster, MacDonald and Murdoch to qualify for Esbjerg, but their relative inexperience (this was a first men’s Europeans for the 2013 World Juniors champions) seemed to tell early on.

They slid to a W1 L4 record with defeats against Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands – their A-Division status seemed to be at stake and playoff hopes a distant dream.

But suddenly it clicked into place. Finland were beaten 7-3 and from there Smith reeled off the wins against Italy, Russia and Germany – they had their confidence back, and were making the big shots.

They had secured Scotland’s spot at the 2016 World Men’s Championship, but faced a tiebreaker against Sweden to make the semi-finals.

They were edged out 8-7 by Edin’s Swedish rink – a disappointment after their run of wins, but undoubtedly a fine European debut for Smith.

There was less drama for Team Muirhead in making the women’s playoffs, as they racked up seven wins from nine.

The drama was saved for their semi-final with Finland, as the Finns led 5-0 after three ends and the game looked to be slipping away from the Scots.

But the nightmarish start was followed by seven ends of professional and increasingly dominant curling from Muirhead’s rink, dragging themselves back to 6-6 after seven ends and stealing two in end eight for a lead they never relinquished.

It was not to be the perfect ending for Muirhead, as Team Sidorova of Russia won the final 6-4 – but the silver medals represented a step up from last year (where they won bronze), both on the podium and in terms of quality, delighting coach David Hay with their consistent level of performance.

Gold for Sidorova was a fitting reward for a team who operated with an air of composure and control throughout the week – while in the men’s competition it was Sweden who took top spot.

Having narrowly beaten Scotland in the tiebreaker, Team Edin got up to their 2014-15 tricks again, really turning it on when it mattered to beat Norway in the semi-finals and Switzerland in the final.

Homan hammer Grand Slam rivals
While the four Grand Slam of Curling men’s titles played for so far have gone to four different winners – Team Koe claimed the Tour Challenge, Team McEwen the Masters, Team Gushue the National and Team Epping the Canadian Open (angle raises ahoy) – there’s been one team ruling the women’s events.

Team Homan may have lost the Tour Challenge final to Team Tirinzoni of Switzerland, but since then they’ve been winning. A lot.

The Masters, National and Canadian Open all fell before them, three of their titles in a season that has seen them take more than $160,000 in tournament winnings… with plenty more to come in 2016, no doubt.

As for the Scots… well, Tirinzoni’s Tour Challenge win is the only Grand Slam title not to go to a Canadian rink at this point in the season, so it’s been an uphill battle.

Teams Brewster and Smith reached the semi-finals of the Tour Challenge tier 2, but the Olympians of Team Murdoch struggled – at least up until the Canadian Open, where they went out at the quarter-final stage after earlier notching wins over Teams Jacobs, Laycock and Bottcher.

In the women’s Grand Slams, Muirhead made the quarter-finals of the Tour Challenge (beaten by Homan) and semi-finals of the Canadian Open, Team Jones denying the defending champions a spot in the final.

With those results – as well as being runner-up at both Europeans and the Stockholm Ladies Cup, plus semi-finalists at the Women’s Masters Basel – it’s been a consistent enough season so far. Indeed their skip believes they’re in a better place than they were at this point in 2014.

One more thing from the Grand Slams: Gushue’s fall at the Masters.

As well as prompting discussion about whether helmets should be worn on the ice, it also raised the issue of concussion.

Gushue miraculously (or, perhaps, dangerously) returned towards the end of the game in which he fell – but should that have been his decision to make, or one for an objective party, i.e. a doctor?

Curling Canada is now looking to create the sport’s first concussion protocol ready for the 2016-17 season, which can only be a good thing.

Scots winning at home and away
So it’s been nearly but not quite for the Scottish teams so far in 2015-16? Not exactly.

Smith claimed the spoils at the Goldline Scottish Curling Tour Edinburgh International, seeing off Van Dorp’s Dutchmen, their other most notable performance coming at the Swiss Cup Basel, where they fell to Gushue in the semi-finals.

Brewster won the Curling Night in America men’s event held in Eveleth, as well as finishing runners-up to Edin at the Baden Masters in August and to compatriots Team Mouat at the Champions Curling Tour event in Dumfries this month.

Mouat had previously won the BrokerLink OVCA Junior Superspiel in Ottawa, Canada – a week after beating Epping twice on the way to the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau semis – and also the Forfar Open on the Scottish Curling Tour.

The team currently holding the most Scottish Curling Tour titles this season, though, are Team Hardie, who won both the Braehead and Dumfries Opens.

Just a few days before Christmas, Murdoch won the Karuizawa International in Japan, seeing off Pat Simmons’ rink in the final, and taking momentum into 2016.

On the women’s side of things, Team Gray won the Dumfries Challenger CCT ladies event, having reached the semi-finals of the Dave Jones Northbridge Mayflower Cashspiel and quarter-finals at the Boundary Ford Classic, both in Canada, earlier in the season.

Team Fleming have had a tough few months, although they did make the quarters at the Women’s Masters Basel and semis at the Medicine Hat Charity Classic in Alberta.

The future’s bright
Scotland’s hopes for future success also performed well in the first part of the season.

The first leg of the Asham Under-21 Slam was held in Greenacres and the men’s section was won by Team Whyte, while the women’s title went to Karina Aitken’s rink.

From there, while the men’s events were won by a different team each time, Team Murray went all Homan on their opponents and claimed top spot at Kinross, Inverness and Lockerbie.

As for the junior men, Team Bryce won in Kinross, Team Brydone in Inverness and Team McNay in Lockerbie.

There were also Scottish teams involved in the European Junior Curling Tour events – several picking up medals.

Team Jackson won gold at the Braehead Junior International in September, while Mouat won men’s bronze.

Brydone and K Aitken won silver and bronze respectively at the EJCT event in Oslo, Norway, while Bryce and Murray took third and fourth respectively in Thun, Switzerland.

Hopes for 2016
The next year promises to be a big one for Scotland. Tour events begin with the Perth Masters, which has again attracted a world class field, from January 7-10.

Others include the Glynhill Ladies International (also January), Aberdeen City Open (February), Aberdeen International (March) and Perth Ladies International (April).

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club hopes for increased media attention and spectator numbers for these, and the Scottish Championships in February of course, ahead of Braehead hosting the 2016 Europeans in November.

Another area of potential growth is in mixed curling, boosted by mixed doubles’ inclusion in the 2018 Olympics.

Scotland (Cameron Bryce, Katie Murray, Bobby Lammie and Sophie Jackson) were a tiebreaker away from making the quarter-finals of the inaugural World Mixed Curling Championship in Bern, Switzerland, in September.

In April 2016 we have the World Mixed Doubles Championship in Karlstad, Sweden – Scotland will be represented by Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken, and hopefully they can lay down a marker for the nation at this key time in the development of the discipline.

One more hope for the year to come: a concrete resolution to #broomgate.

Following complaints about ‘joystick curling’ and teams calling others ‘cheats’, certain broom heads were banned, at least temporarily, at elite level while the sports governing bodies try to sort it out.

It’s not an easy thing to do. How do you answer questions such as:
– How effective a broom is too effective?
– What should the balance be between good shot-making and good sweeping?
– What should the balance be between getting in the best physical shape and getting the best out of your equipment?
– Can the World Curling Federation be seen to make objective calls when it is sponsored by some broom suppliers (Balance Plus and Goldline) and not others (notably Hardline)?

However those in charge of the sport come to a conclusion (I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes!), it must involve the global curling community and the testing/decision-making process must be transparent.

Or, in other words, what these guys said.

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Thanks for reading and supporting The Roaring Game Blog in its first few months… may you, dear reader, and the sport have a fantastic 2016!

Weekend round-up: Titles for Scots home and away

It was a busy weekend before Christmas for Scottish curlers, with Team Murdoch taking the Karuizawa International title in Japan while their compatriots battled each other in Dumfries and Lockerbie.

Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) joined men’s teams from Belarus, Canada, Germany, Norway and Sweden, as well as Japan and South Korea, at the Karuizawa International, with 15 rinks divided into three pools.

Murdoch began with a 9-2 win over Team Fukui of Japan, scoring three in end three and four in end six, before a 7-4 victory against Team Matsumura, again of Japan, with threes in ends two and four.

Further wins, 7-6 against Team Hoiberg of Norway and 5-3 over Team Baumann of Germany, sent Murdoch directly into the semi-finals.

There they faced Team Soo-Hyuk Kim of South Korea, and the Scots came out on top 6-4, with twos in ends one and five.

The final was contested between Murdoch and Team Simmons of Canada, and again Murdoch scored two in end one.

But Simmons came back with two in the sixth, and the game went to an extra end tied at 3-3.

Murdoch held hammer, though, and got the one required to win the competition – ending the week undefeated and with impetus to take into 2016.

The women’s competition was won by Team Ogasawara of Japan, who saw off compatriots Team Fujisawa 5-4 in the title decider.

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The latest Curling Champions Tour event, the Lely Challenge Series, was held at the Dumfries Ice Bowl – with both men’s and women’s titles up for grabs.

The men’s competition saw 16 teams divided into four sections, the first seeing Team Hardie finish top, ahead of Team Smith in second.

Section 2 was headed up by Team Mouat, ahead of Team Hamilton, while Section 3 saw Teams Bryce and Van Dorp as the top two.

Finally, Section 4 produced Team Brewster and Team Thune as qualifiers for the playoffs.

In the quarter-finals, Bryce defeated Hamilton 7-4, Hardie were 4-3 winners over Thune, Mouat saw off Van Dorp 9-5 and Brewster edged Smith 5-4 after an extra end.

Then, in the semi-finals, Brewster won 5-3 against Bryce with a three in end one, while Mouat defeated Hardie 6-2, largely thanks to steals of two in ends three and four.

So the final pitted last year’s winners Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan) against Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Duncan Menzies, Bobby Lammie, Gregor Cannon, Angus Dowell).

Mouat started with a two in end one but Brewster stole ones in ends three and four to lead 3-2, before another two for Mouat in end five.

The game was 4-4 going into end eight, and Mouat scored one with hammer to claim the title.

Bruce Mouat told British Curling: “It’s been a really good week, winning [the Scottish Mixed Doubles] last weekend, then having two exams this week that went OK ahead of this.

“The guys played really well this weekend. I’m thankful that each and every one of them played really well. We got to know the ice.”

“It’s a great way to finish the year and we’ll be looking to come back with guns blazing as we have a really hectic February, March and April coming up.”

The 15 women’s teams were divided into three groups, the first one being headed by Teams Gisler and Rilea.

Group 2 saw Teams Driendl and Maillard qualify, while it was Teams Gray and Fleming who made it out of Group 3.

Driendl and Gisler went straight into the semi-finals, but the remaining four playoff teams faced off in quarter-finals – Gray beat Rilea 5-1 and Maillard beat Fleming 8-3.

Come the semis, there were wins for Gray, 6-5 against Driendl, and Maillard, 4-3 over Gisler.

The final, then, was between Gray (Lauren Gray, Jennifer Dodds, Vicky Wright, Mhairi Baird) and Maillard (Isabelle Maillard, Andrea Marx, Fabienne Furbringer, Bettina Bouhel).

And it was Gray’s Scottish rink who came out on top, scoring twos in ends three and five on their way to a 6-4 victory.

Skip Lauren Gray said: “It came down to the last shot with a hit and roll to win and another good team performance in a tight game.

“It’s our first competition that we’ve won as a team against good international teams so it’s been a great weekend.

“It’s our second season together and we’re starting to make our games tighter and we need to keep building on that, but we’re progressing quite fast and we’re really pleased to get a team win.”

Team Gray With Dumfries Challenger Series Trophy - David Owen
Team Gray with the trophy – photo: David Owen

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The final leg of the Asham U21 Slam took place in Lockerbie this weekend, with 10 junior men’s teams (including three from Denmark, England and the Netherlands) in two groups and eight women’s teams (also with one from Denmark), again divided into two groups.

Men’s Group A was topped by Team McNay (Cameron McNay, Fin Campbell, Ryan McCormack, Angus Bryce) ahead of Team Carson (Luke Carson, George Ballentyne, James Craik, Mark Taylor).

The second group saw Teams Joiner (Craig Joiner, Euan MacDiarmid, Robin McCall, Craig Patterson) and Whyte (Ross Whyte, James Baird, Gavin Baird, Euan Kyle, David Baird) qualify.

In the semi-finals, Joiner stole ones in ends six, seven and eight to beat Carson 6-3, while McNay versus Whyte went to an extra end before McNay scored their one with hammer to win 5-4.

The final was a more one-sided affair, McNay scoring twos in ends two and four and stealing three in end six to defeat Joiner 8-1 and claim the title, while in the third/fourth place match Whyte won 7-2.

Junior Women’s Group A saw Teams Murray (Katie Murray, Rebecca Morrison, Hailey Duff, Mili Smith) and Bryce (Amy Bryce, Lauren Morgan, Leeanne McKenzie, Rebecca Baird) progress.

Teams Young (Lesley Young, Beth Dandie, Kathryn Spain, Jane Barr) and Davie (Lisa Davie, Kirsty Barr, Emma Barr, Annabel Skuse) were the qualifiers from Group B.

Come the semi-finals, Young scored two in end one and stole one in end four on their way to beating Bryce 6-4, while Murray stole ones in ends four and five to see off Davie 4-1.

Murray went on to clinch the title by beating Young 8-3 in the final, courtesy of a two in end one, four in end four and two in end six – while Bryce won the third/fourth playoff 5-4.