Kelsey Rocque reuniting with junior teammates next season

Kelsey Rocque shoots a stone during the 2017 National Grand Slam of Curling tournament in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

When Kelsey Rocque, Danielle Schmiemann and Jesse Iles were last all on the ice together, they were celebrating a gold-medal victory for Canada at the 2015 world junior curling championship.

Now with a new Olympic cycle on the horizon, the trio has reunited.

Rocque announced Monday her lineup for next season featuring Schmiemann at third and Iles at lead. Becca Konschuh rounds out the roster at second for the Edmonton-based team.

After Rocque’s current squad decided to split earlier this month, she was open to the idea about getting back together with Schmiemann and Iles.

“They’re really good friends of mine and we’ve had great success in the past,” Rocque said. “That was an idea we had, we started talking and decided that would be a great fit.

“Then Becca came into the mix as well. We all think she’s a great player and a really good person, so we started talking to her. She came onto the team about a week ago and we’re excited to get going.”

While the start of the 2018-19 season is still seven months away, Rocque said it’s huge to establish the team she wanted as quickly as possible. She’s not the only one either with Kerri Einarson and Tracy Fleury also announcing their new crews this past weekend.

“I’m very fortunate to be able to play with three really great players and to set something up this good this early is pretty great,” Rocque said. “It feels good going into next season knowing that you’ve got a solid team and I think we’re all really looking forward to it. We’re going to take these next few months and relax a bit, start some off-season training and then go hard in the fall.”

The 23-year-old Rocque has an impressive international resume already. Rocque became the first Canadian women’s skip to capture back-to-back world junior titles in 2014 and 2015 and pulled off the feat with two completely different lineups no less. She was Canada’s flag-bearer for the 2017 Winter Universiade opening ceremony and claimed gold at that event as well.

Pressure? Rocque has been solid as “Captain Canada” with a 29-4 win-loss record.

“Anytime you can put the Maple Leaf on your back you have to take it,” Rocque said while reflecting on her Winter Universiade experience. “That was one of my favourite weeks in my curling career. I got to play with three great players again and to represent Canada is a goal for a lot of curlers. You always have to embrace that and take it minute by minute really when you’re at that level. It’s an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life and I’m fortunate to take that forward.”

Rocque aged out of juniors after taking the 2015 world title and linked up with third Laura Crocker, second Taylor McDonald and lead Jen Gates when the three parted ways with skip Chelsea Carey.

If there was a rookie of the year award Rocque would have been the runaway winner. She made her Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling debut right off the bat in the Tier 1 division at the season-opening Tour Challenge and proved she had what it takes to hang with the world’s best by qualifying for the playoffs. Rocque also captured a couple World Curling Tour titles while balancing school and completing her final season with the University of Alberta Pandas, who secured a second consecutive U Sports championship and earned the right to represent Canada at the 2017 Winter Universiade.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” Rocque said. “I can’t put into words how much all that experience over the last few years has given me. To take that forward into the next cycle is really good. I was really thankful and very fortunate to come out of juniors and be able to compete against the best teams, gain all that experience and make myself a better player.”

Their Olympic dreams ended at the pre-trials in November and the team shuffled the deck. Crocker took over the reins at skip while still throwing third with Rocque remaining at fourth. Although they’ll finish out this season together, currently ranked eighth on the World Curling Tour year-to-date standings, all four opted to pursue separate options for next year.

Rocque said she honestly thought about stepping back and playing a different position but her new teammates convinced her skip was where she belonged.

“The girls talked to me and said, ‘You’re a great skip and we really want you throwing those last rocks and calling the game.’ They gave me that little extra boost of confidence that I think I needed,” she said. “I’m really excited to head back to the full skipping position and give it a go next year.”

Schmiemann was also part of Rocque’s Winter Universiade championship team with the two forming a formidable back-end pairing for the powerhouse Pandas program.

“I can’t say enough good things about Danielle,” Rocque said. “She’s an incredible player and we’ve had a lot of success internationally together. She’s such a calming influence to have in the house.”

Both Schmiemann and Iles played with skip Kristen Streifel on tour and with the Pandas this season.

“Jesse is probably the most positive person I’ve ever played with,” Rocque said. “She’s the hardest worker in the room always and such a great lead.”

Konschuh won the 2012 Canadian junior title with Jocelyn Peterman and played on tour with Nadine Scotland in Calgary recently. Rocque acknowledged she doesn’t know Knoschuh as well as Schmiemann and Iles but they’ve crossed paths several times over the years competing against each other a ton.

“I’ve always had a massive amount of respect for her,” Rocque said. “She’s a great player, a really good sweeper and very strong.”

“I really think these girls are extremely strong players and are going to be pretty well-known in the curling world very soon,” she added. “We think we can have a really strong season next year and hopefully stay together for longer but we’re excited to start with just next year.”

Although Rocque is no longer a student per se, she’s still a student of the game and is open to learning more.

“We’re still a very young team so there’s lots of room for improvement to get better and to learn. That’s my favourite part,” Rocque said. “I really enjoy being the underdog in curling and I think things are going to go really well next year. It’s definitely a different feel going into a cycle not being a student anymore and a little farther out of juniors.”

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