REGINA — Val Sweeting was in big trouble once again.
The Edmonton native had already given up a steal of three to start Sunday’s Tour Challenge Tier 1 women’s final against Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg and was stuck in another jam during the fifth end.
Although Sweeting had several rocks dotted around the rings, she was trailing by two points without the hammer and facing a pair of Hasselborg stones in the crowded house. Miss and Hasselborg had an easy shot to tack on another three count and possibly put a “three count” to the championship game.
Sweeting seemed relaxed despite the high-pressure situation. She slid out of the hack and delivered a cross-house double to eliminate both of Hasselborg’s stones and sit four counters. The once-quiet Co-operators Centre crowd erupted into a roar and a smile lit up Sweeting’s face.
“Yay! Made one!” she exclaimed and high-fived her teammates.
Hasselborg drew for just a single to reestablish the three-point gap, but it was all part of Sweeting’s plan to reclaim the hammer and take control of the game. If the momentum hadn’t shifted in the fifth with that game-saving shot, it definitely swung by the sixth when Sweeting made another double, albeit one more routine, to score three points of her own and tie the game 5-5 with only two ends remaining.
Hasselborg blanked the seventh and Sweeting poured on the pressure in the eighth. Still beaming with that smile, Sweeting drew on her last to grab a piece of the button for shot stone with the direct path blocked by two of her own guards. Fate lied within Hasselborg’s hands, but it wasn’t meant to be for her as the rock rolled heavy and missed the mark.
While steals bookended the final, it was thievery all week for Sweeting, who also swiped a pair of extra-end victories in the round-robin portion and also stole in the eighth against Rachel Homan to fend off the reigning world champion during preliminary play. Even though they were behind on the scorecard several times, that never-give-up attitude propelled the team and when the dust settled they had finished the Tour Challenge with an unblemished 7-0 record topped with that 6-5 win in the final.
Confidence and chemistry have been key for the team of Sweeting, third Lori-Olson Johns, second Dana Ferguson and lead Rachel Brown. They don’t get rattled and are not ones to break brooms after bad games as they stay positive and wait patiently for the right opportunity to strike back.
“We didn’t feel that far off,” Sweeting said. “We just rubbed a guard or just missed a runback. We felt we were really close and I think that’s what helped. We didn’t get down on ourselves, then we just started making them and I think the double in five, I said, ‘Finally we made one.’
“The girls just stuck with it and didn’t get down on ourselves and we easily could have in that situation, so I’m really proud of the team that we didn’t do that. We just plugged away, got a break in six when she left that double and capitalized and then just tried to leave her the hardest shot possible in eight and fortunately it worked out. I thought it was a really good week for the team and we rallied a lot for each other and lots of good things to carry forward. Lots to learn too so we don’t put ourselves in that situation but lots of positives.”
Sweeting is now a three-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title winner and while no two victories have been the same, the theme of persistence looms large.
Rewind to the start of the Olympic cycle and the 2014 Masters. Sweeting had only played in three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events previously, qualified for the playoffs once (with zero playoff wins), but was fresh off of earning a silver medal at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and ready to make an impact on tour. The team had a new third in Andrea Crawford, who replaced Joanne Courtney after she left to join Team Homan. Things didn’t working out early in the season though and Crawford parted ways with the team on the eve of the Masters forcing Sweeting to make a last-minute call to Cathy Overton-Clapham to sub.
The “tripod” of Sweeting, Ferguson, and Brown gelled with their super spare and qualified for the playoffs with a 3-1 round-robin record. Sweeting knocked off future world champion Alina Paetz in the quarterfinals, then-double defending Masters victor Homan in the semis and Olympic silver medallist Margaretha Sigfridsson in the championship game. Sweeting nailed the winning shot with only 15 seconds left on the clock: just another day at the office.
Olson-Johns joined the Sweeting squad shortly thereafter and things clicked together. Consistency has played a factor as they’ve only missed the playoffs twice in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series since that title win. One of those two non-playoff appearances was the 2016 Masters, which opened last season. Sweeting went winless with a 0-4 record and the losing streak extended into the start of the following event, the Tour Challenge, where she fell to Sherry Middaugh in their first game. Team Sweeting made a complete 180 from there winning six straight en route to the title.
“I think last year coming off a 0-4 start at the Masters we were really happy to turn things around,” Sweeting said. “This year it’s our first event and nice to start off on a good note. Anytime is just as exciting, so they’re both special in their own way.”
This year’s Tour Challenge win may carry extra weight with the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials on the horizon in December. The one-week tournament is a ticket to represent the Great White North at the Winter Games just a couple months later in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The right prep work for that week can mean the difference between making an Olympic dream a reality and heading back to the drawing board to plan another four years of lofty goals.
“I think no matter what, win or lose, it’s all just about learning and focusing on the process heading into the trials,” Sweeting said. “I don’t think we want to make anything bigger or lesser than what it is. I think it’s all just about learning, win or lose, and what you take from it. That’s the important thing. We’ll definitely take everything that we can from this week and carry it forward.”
After shaking hands with Team Hasselborg, celebration time was on. Brown tossed her broom into the air (possibly setting a new GSOC indoor javelin record) and the team gathered with coach Jeff Hoffart for trophy photos.
One person was still missing though and Brown called out, “Where’s Jesse?”
Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling videographer Jesse Wachter, who lives in Turks and Caicos, was far from home when Hurricane Irma ravaged the islands during the week of the Tour Challenge. The consummate professional that he is, Wachter was still hard at work at the arena everyday recording and editing intro videos for all of the teams while keeping in touch with family back home and making sure everyone was safe.
Wachter photobombed Team Sweeting’s Tour Challenge trophy picture last year as the “guy in the back” and with their blessing rushed over to join the team for another appearance. The Olympic process could wait for now as the team savoured the moment while letting a good friend know that even with everything that’s on the line this season, they’re still thinking about him.
Team Sweeting celebrates with the Tour Challenge trophy. Guy in the back is Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling videographer Jesse Wachter. (Anil Mungal)