Sunday, February 12, 2012

And this week the snow stayed away

The weekend after the English Men’s Championships escaped from being snowbound by an early finish, the English Women’s Championship went all the way through from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon as two teams battled for their trip to Sweden. A light flurry of snow on Sunday morning as the teams arrived at the rink came to nothing and battle continued.

Mind you when we all left the rink on Friday evening it was -9 degrees and that was probably why the teams were wrapped up in multiple layers the following day having experienced the bitter cold on the ice the previous evening.

So who was playing? Well originally it had been going to be Anna Fowler’s Junior team against Fiona Hawker who had recruited a team older than herself this year since two of her team from last year had defected to the juniors. However, a mix up over dates saw two of Anna’s team drop out and she recruited her mother, Jules, to join Angharad Ward and Lauren Pearce in her team. Fiona had her lead from last year, Debbie Hutcheon, together with Susan Young and Alison Hemmings.

The first game was nip and tuck all the way and it was 3-3 after five ends (remember those numbers) but Fiona had last stone at the tenth and she used it to win 6-5. Game 2 on Saturday afternoon saw Fiona jump into a 3-1 lead before Anna pegged it back to 3-3 after five (again). It was still close at 5-4 to Anna after eight but a three for her at the ninth saw handshakes from Fiona and her team. So one game all.

Saturday evening and once again Fiona got the early jump to 3-0, but once again when it came to the fifth end break the score was….3-3! It was then 5-5 after eight and this time Fiona was unable to make last stone at the tenth count and a steal for Anna saw her win 7-5 and take a 2-1 lead overall.

Sunday morning and an early start for us all at 0900. This time it was Anna who got the early lead with a four at the third end and after five ends, for a change, it was 5-3 for her. But after six we were all square at 5-5 and then Fiona stole a big three to make it 8-5 after seven. However Anna was not done and got a two back at the eighth, which Fiona copied at the ninth to go into the last end 10-7 up without the hammer. A brave attempt by Anna to remove three of Fiona’s tightly packed stones to force the extra end just failed to come off and the one she scored was scant consolation for an 8-10 defeat.

And so it all came down to the fifth and deciding game and after four tense struggles it was a shame that Anna and her team ran out of steam in this one as Fiona raced into an 8-1 lead after five, a further single at the sixth leading to handshakes all round and a very relieved Fiona, Alison, Susan and Debbie celebrating their success and looking forward to Sweden in December.

It was Fiona’s fourth Championship victory, her first having been back in 2000 when she played with Joan Reed, while she also won it in 2002 (with Sarah Johnston) and then again last year as skip in her own right. In 2002 she was successful in getting a large sponsorship deal from Twinings Tea which helped them gain promotion to the European A Group at the Europeans in Grindelwald and then in 2003, when the same team had been unchallenged in the English Championships, she was thrown into skipping in that A Group when Sarah had to stay at home when she fell ill. A baptism of fire indeed. Again in 2004 she represented England in Sofia when there were no other English challengers.

For Anna and Angharad, having done so well in Moscow in December, it was a bitter disappointment for them to lose, and while Angharad still has Juniors to look forward to next season, and has memories of Innsbruck to keep her spirits up, Anna is now too old for Juniors. It will be a long year before she gets another chance to win the Championships, but she has time on her side and I am sure she will become one of England’s great champions in the future.

Top L-R: Fiona Hawker, Susan Young, Alison Hemmings, Debbie Hutcheon. Photo © John Brown.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Snow almost stops play

Of course we all know that the South of England has a great climate and it never snows very often, but when it does, it stops everything. Well, it nearly stopped the English Championships in its tracks this weekend and, but for a fortunate bit of programming, I think we would still be waiting to hear who had won this year’s English Men’s Championship.

The curling rink at Fenton’s sits on the border of Kent and East Sussex and, like many boundaries, this runs along a rivercourse. And of course rivercourses all lie at the bottom of valleys, which is where the problems occur because to get out of valleys you generally have to climb hills, which is why during Saturday evening’s session at the Championship worried spectators were periodically peering out of windows to see if the snow that was forecast had arrived.

Indeed it had started to fall as it was time to leave and the convoy of cars that wound up the lane to the A21 left distinct tracks on the flurry of snow that presaged the storm to come. By the early morning three to four inches had fallen and there was a curling session due at 0900 to settle the Championships, with a possible tie break at 1400.

Except there wasn’t, because the Championship had been won the previous evening just as the snow began to fall and, instead of a ski ride down the lane to the rink, a relieved group of curlers could begin to contemplate driving home.

And the piece of good fortune was that the draw for the seven team competition, which gave each team a bye in one of the sessions, had given the bye on the Sunday morning to the team which won all of its 6 games and so could not be caught. So it was a case of game over, shut up shop and let’s hope it clears up for Tuesday evening’s league games.

So who were the winners? Well the teams entered were the reigning champions, skipped by Alan MacDougall; the previous championship winning rinks of Jamie Malton and James Dixon / Bruce Bowyer; the English junior men’s team of Ben Fowler (with some overage help from brother Sam); John Brown’s team of Canadian English (see Bob’s Haggis report) skipped by Greg Dunn; Ken Maxwell’s team skipped by another Canadian, Bryan Zachary and a final multi-national team skipped by another Canadian, Doug Andrews, with Duncan Spence (ex-Lockerbie) throwing last stones (most of the time)! Probably the most cosmopolitan English Championships of all time.

For the first time at the National Championships the procedure followed the WCF rulebook with a pre-game practice and Last Stone Draw to decide the hammer and then at the end of the competition the use of the average LSD to decide ranking if unobtainable by the results in the round robin between the equal teams. Only one tie breaker was programmed and so any decision on who should be in a final tiebreaker could depend on the LSD results.

Thursday night and it was wins for Alan MacDougall (v Greg Dunn by 10-6), Doug Andrews (v Ben Fowler by 8-4) and for Jamie Malton (v Ken Maxwell by 10-7). Nothing unusual there but in the next session at 0930 on Friday morning it seemed as though Doug Andrews had caught Jamie Malton napping as it took an extra end to decide the game 11-10 in Malton’s favour. MacDougall beat Maxwell 8-3 and Dunn beat Dixon by 8-5.

Just an hour or so after the end of the session, for those playing slowly and long, it was back on and Sheet 1 threw up another extra end finish. After just three ends, James Dixon was 5-0 up on Alan MacDougall and a shock looked likely, but a thrilling comeback eventually saw MacDougall win 8-7 in the extra while Greg Dunn shocked Jamie Malton by winning 8-5 and an outrageous fluke helped Ben Fowler defeat Ken Maxwell 8-3.

An early finish on Friday but it was a full day on Saturday with, for some teams, three games to played between 0900 and 2200. The first session saw the game considered by many to be the most crucial one of the weekend, that between MacDougall and Malton, and the latter needed to win after losing to Dunn on the Friday. Jamie’s wife was expected to deliver their first child over the weekend and so he had to dash off to the hospital that morning leaving Michael Opel to skip the team. And what a game it was, finally decide by a great draw to catch the edge of the four foot by Alan for a 6-5 win.

So with four wins out of four it looked like the reigning champions would retain their title and only Greg Dunn could realistically hope to catch them if they slipped. He had recorded a 14-5 win over Ben Fowler while James Dixon won his first game by 8-6 over Doug Andrews.

Greg Dunn had the bye in the middle of Saturday and while he and his team were off enjoying a long lunch, a session which featured probably the least excitement of the day saw MacDougall beat Fowler 8-1, Maxwell win his first game by 14-5 over Andrews (though Ken Maxwell did not play in this game) and Malton got back on track with an 8-5 win over Dixon.

And so to the last session on Saturday, and with snow threatening to cut them off from their accommodation, James Dixon and his team forfeited their game against Ben Fowler as neither could win the title, leaving just Alan MacDougall and Greg Dunn to record further wins, and, by dint of winning six out of six, that was enough for Alan MacDougall, Andrew Reed, Andrew Woolston and Tom Jaegii to win their third consecutive championship (and they have a win - loss record of 18-1 over those three years).

A quick drink and presentations and it was off into the wintry scenes and the convoy to safety………..

And what about the women’s Championship? It is next weekend and features just two teams – skipped by Fiona Hawker and Anna Fowler. There will be one game on Friday with two on Saturday and two if needed on Sunday. Look out for a follow up report next week.

Top L-R: Alan MacDougall, Andrew Reed, Andrew Woolston and Tom Jaegii. Photo courtesy of Kerr Alexander.