Opting to stay home, practice and only rarely compete, you wouldn’t expect Team McCarville to put up much fight against the world’s best rinks. You’d be wrong.

F our members of Team McCarville are walking through the warm part of North Grenville Curling Club in their sock feet, honouring the sign on the front door asking people to remove their boots before entering. (Not everyone does.) There’s another sign taped to the wall that asks for volunteer “sandwich makers.” Krista McCarville, Andrea Kelly, Ashley Sippala and Sarah Potts pass a table of egg salad sandwiches (crafted by volunteers Joe and Joanne) before reaching a display of Bristol boards featuring pictures of smiling teams who’ve won the club’s annual fall classic, the bonspiel that’s brought Team McCarville here. In a few days’ time, they may earn the right to have a picture of their own pasted to a board here. The team sure is off to a good start.

It’s late October 2023, just after lunch time on Day 1 of the tournament, and Team McCarville just cruised to an easy 9-3 win in their opener. About 50 fans are taking in the action still happening on the ice, the glass they’re watching through fogging up and then being cleared over and over by a man with dish soap and a rag who’s now improving sightlines so fans can see Olympic silver medallist Kim Eun-Jung sew up a win. In addition to Kim’s rink and another team from South Korea, this bonspiel has drawn teams from Japan, Italy, Canada and the U.S. to the town of Kemptville, Ont., just outside of Ottawa and home to some 4,000 people.

A couple of fans offer congratulations as McCarville, Kelly, Sippala and Potts make their way to the dressing room. “Love the uniforms,” one fan says, raising his beer to “cheers” the air. The green and yellow jackets with the Thunder Bay North Stars logo are new for Team McCarville this season, the junior hockey team just became a sponsor. Potts admits it was jarring at first to wear such bright colours, but it’s really grown on the lead. “And I can’t believe how much everybody loves them,” she says.

The women head upstairs for lunch and the talk at the table is nonstop. Potts and Sippala are best friends who met through curling 22 years ago. Sippala, Potts and McCarville have been curling together more than a decade, and consider each other family, along with second Kendra Lilly, who’s home in Sudbury this week since theirs is a five-woman rotation. Kelly, the third, is new to the team, and lives in Fredericton, NB. She spends lunch catching up on how everyone’s been since she last saw them a few weeks ago.


Also in need of hashing out is what they’ll do between now and their next game at 9 p.m., having earned a seven-hour break thanks to the opening win. “We need to go to the LCBO,” McCarville says. They got in after it closed last night. They’ll enjoy wine or beer after every day of the tournament, which Potts contends is “the best part,” when they’re back at their Airbnb relaxing. “Some teams have zero drinks during spiels,” McCarville says. Hers takes a different approach.

In so many ways, that’s true of Team McCarville. They don’t operate like any of the other top rinks in the world. This Thunder Bay-based squad plays a fraction of the events, and you won’t see them touring regularly, like Team Jones, Team Homan and Team Einarson do. And yet, Team McCarville has finished on the podium at the last two Scotties, and at the last Olympic trials. When the stakes are highest, they’re consistently a threat to win the whole shebang.

Of course, their relative lack of spiels is the biggest criticism leveled at the team, and the explanation paraded out when pundits wonder why they haven’t won the Scotties. But far more worthy of attention — and wonder — is how the rink, which is currently ranked 26th in Canada and 53rd in the world, has come so close. How they got and stayed so good without regularly playing against the best and upping their world ranking. And how they consistently deliver when the pressure is highest.

Team McCarville made a major change in the off-season, and the first big test to see if it’s working begins Thursday at the Northern Ontario Scotties. It’s a tournament they need to win to punch a ticket to the big one in February. “The grand total for this team, the goal, everything — we want to win the Scotties,” McCarville says. “That’s my hugest dream ever. It’s why we curl.”

Team McCarville second Kendra Lilly calls to her teammates at the 2023 Scotties.

S arah Potts was on the ice at Fort William Curling Club, where she’d played since before she can even remember, the sport being a focus for her world-champion parents, Rick and Lorraine Lang. And this was a big one: The 25-year-old Potts was playing third in the final of the 2015 Northern Ontario Scotties, the first time the region was recognized with its own berth to nationals.

Potts had been to the Scotties before, but as an alternate. As she worked toward a return trip as a regular, she looked up every so often at two faces in the crowd, cheering her on.

“What are you doing sitting there?” she wondered. “Can you come out here and help us?”

No, Potts wasn’t wishing for her parents, Lorraine and Rick. It was her former teammates, McCarville and Sippala, she wanted beside her. Both had decided after the 2013 season to take a step back from the game, feeling burnt out, wanting to focus on work and family. “It was starting to feel grindy,” says Sippala, who juggles curling with her work as a hospital lab technician. McCarville teaches grade school, and had two young kids at the time. “I planned to take a season or two off, and then I would see from there how happy I was with the break,” she says.

“We decided we wanted to try to be the best quote-unquote ‘amateur’ team in the world.”

The provincial final in their home club signalled an end to break time for both McCarville and Sippala. “We were both like: ‘I can’t sit here. I need to curl,’” McCarville says of the restlessness they felt in the stands. Potts’ team, led by a young Sudbury-based skip named Kendra Lilly, would lose to Tracy Fleury. But McCarville and Sippala began scheming even while they cheered Team Lilly on. McCarville still relays their conversation in a whisper: “Okay, we have to come back,” she says, quiet as stocking feet across a curling club floor. “We’ll get Sarah, and we need someone else.”

Watching Lilly in that final provided the obvious answer. “She’s such a good shooter,” McCarville says at regular volume. “So it was, ‘Okay, we want to play with her too.’”

“Pardon my language, but that was a ‘holy shit’ moment, that they want me on their team,” Lilly says of her reaction when they put the invite to her. “And I was like, ‘Uh, yeah!’”

As eager as she suddenly was to get back, McCarville’s curling break had been instructive. She’d had “1,000 things to do” at all times, but every item on the list was something for her kids, her work, her husband, Mike, or their home. “I was like, ‘Where is my time?’ And I feel like that’s curling. My mind is free. Whatever’s stressing me out, I get on the ice and nothing else matters,” she says. “I didn’t have that, and I realized it that year: This is the me-time that I want, the escape that I want.”

McCarville, Sippala, Lilly and Potts decided things would be different for 2015-2016 Team McCarville. They’d prioritize work and family. They’d play just five or so events a year, and train with specific goals in mind.


“We got together and made a pact, really,” says Rick Lang, who’s been their coach since the deal was struck. “We decided the only way we can achieve success is to have a lighter schedule, which allows everyone to keep their jobs and do their parenting requirements and have the personal lives they want. And we’d prioritize work ethic around practice and skill development. We didn’t want to just play socially and maybe try to get to the Scotties and see how we did. We decided we wanted to try to be the best quote-unquote ‘amateur’ team in the world.”

The plan paid off immediately: Team McCarville won four events to start their first season together, and the 2016 Northern Ontario provincials. At the 2016 Scotties, they went 7-4 in the round robin to qualify for the playoffs. In Lilly’s first Scotties, and Potts’ first as a regular, they played world No. 2 Jennifer Jones in the semi-final.

“So intimidating, right?” Potts says, eyes wide as saucers. “Jenn Jones. Dawn McEwen — she’s like my idol as a lead. I was just like, ‘What are we doing here?’ The whole thing was nuts.”

In the ninth end, Jones rolled out to give Team McCarville a steal of two, leading to a 7-5 upset win. Potts dropped to her knees on the ice in shock.

“This is my first Scotties, and we’re going to the finals? Oh. My. God. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep,” Potts says. “And our first year together. I don’t think any of us thought we’d make the final. It felt like a fairy tale, to be honest. And then once we made the final, I felt like we were going to win it. Everything had worked out too well, it was supposed to be this crazy underdog win.”

The final against Alberta’s Chelsea Carey was back-and-forth. Carey had hammer in the last end, and had to draw the eight-foot for the win. She floated it in perfectly.

Potts cried when it was over. “Now I look back at the video, I’m like: ‘What a loser. Your first Scotties, you should’ve been so happy,’” the 34-year-old says, laughing. “But we were so close. We were right there.”

Sippala, left, and McCarville plotted a return to curling in the stands, while watching Potts, right, compete at the 2015 Northern Ontario Scotties.

M cCarville was 14 years old and known by her maiden name, Krista Scharf, when she first started drawing notice on the ice, after a team of 19- and 20-year-olds recruited her to play second, her first competitive season. “I learned a lot about life, travelling with a bunch of 19-year-olds,” she says, smiling.

She’s sitting on a chair in the basement of her team’s Airbnb. McCarville’s long brown hair is down instead of up in the ponytail she sports on the ice, and she’s without the eyeglasses she usually wears out there, too. “I always loved sports, and I was competitive, but I never actually showed my competitiveness until curling started,” she says.

When she was 15, the top junior team in Thunder Bay called her up to be their second. With them, McCarville won her first provincial title and played in her first junior nationals. She started skipping teams a season later, and led her rinks to provincial junior titles the next three years, earning as many appearances at nationals.

She was 22 when two-time Scotties champion Lorraine Lang reached out with her team. They also curled out of Fort William CC, where McCarville’s dad, Ralph, first brought her when she was 10. Skip Tara George was willing to make a position change to land McCarville. “They asked if I would skip their team,” says McCarville, who was a touch intimidated, even if she was used to seeing Lang around the club. “Lorraine’s like, world champion.” But her answer was obviously yes.

“I know that there are still some teams out there that are scared to play us, and I think a lot of that is to do with Krista and just how clutch she is.”

“I remember Lorraine saying to me, ‘Geez, this young Krista McCarville, we’ve gotta try her out,” says Rick Lang (wearer of many hats: Lorraine’s husband, Potts’ dad, Team McCarville’s coach). He remembers watching their first game together in 2005 with a young McCarville at the helm. “I knew from that point, like, ‘Oh man, she’s for real,’” he says. “Even from her very early 20s, confident, a great thrower, so much composure.” She reminded Lang of Al Hackner, the skip he won two Briers and a pair of world championships with.

A couple months after joining the team, McCarville skipped the Thunder Bay foursome to the 2006 Ontario provincial title and went to her first Scotties. “We were okay, we weren’t great,” McCarville says. They finished with a 4-7 record. “The next year, we were a little bit better. We were always building.”

She’d earn her first Scotties podium finish in 2010. McCarville’s three-month-old daughter, Bella, was crying in the stands while Ralph and her mom, Linda, tried to calm their newborn grandchild, who wouldn’t take a bottle. “It was so awesome to have my parents travelling with me,” McCarville says. “But it was the juggle of guilt all the time: I’m not with my team, I should be with my team. But I’m also not with my daughter, and I feel like my parents need a break.” Neither curling nor Bella could have her full attention. Still, Team McCarville earned bronze.

Potts was the team’s alternate then, and she’d soon take over from her mom as lead. “Krista was just incredible to watch that week,” Potts says now, shaking her head.

“Crazy,” adds Sippala, who played second in 2010, her first full season with the team. “Just crazy.”


Everyone who isn’t the skipper agrees that one big reason they play their best when the stakes are highest is due to the skipper.

“She’s super calm,” says Kelly, herself a former long-time skip who led New Brunswick to 10 Scotties, and won bronze in 2022. “She doesn’t get worked up about anything. She’s very much able to park the last shot and move onto the next shot and plan ahead.”

“There’s no one more composed than Krista,” Sippala adds. “She’s just special. Krista and I work out a lot together, and she’ll go pick up a heavier weight and I’m like, [sigh] ‘I guess I’ll go get another weight.’ She’s the strongest. Damn, she’s just good at everything.”

“I know that there are still some teams out there that are scared to play us, and I think a lot of that is to do with Krista and just how clutch she is,” Lilly says. “We are so confident in her. It’s so cool to watch sometimes — she makes it look so easy.”

It’s noticeable even to those who don’t play with or against her, who’ve watched McCarville lead her team to Olympic trials bronze in 2021, Scotties silver in 2022 and Scotties bronze last year. “For as nice as she is, I think Krista’s a killer on the inside,” says Ben Hebert, the lead for Team Bottcher. “You go to those big events, she’s not there for a participation ribbon.”

Potts says McCarville is such a natural that technical things she needs to work hard at — like sliding — are simple for her skip. “Like, it’s not even fair,” Potts says. “She’s naturally so good, and she’s such a skip. She’s straight-faced the whole time — pressure doesn’t impact her at all. As a lead, that’s what you want.

“I’m just like, ‘Krista, please keep curling.’ Because if Krista wasn’t curling, I don’t know what any of us would do.”

“It’s not just about the curling, right? Honestly, if the best team in the world asked me to play, I would probably say no. I don’t want to play with anyone else. They’re why I love it.”

Potts doesn’t think she’d be curling competitively if not for this team. She’s a full-time social worker, and has twin three-year-old boys, Cohen and Leo, who are both autistic, with varying verbal skills. Potts describes life as “very, very busy,” with “lots of appointments, lots of therapy, lots of extra things going on.” Leo and Cohen are in daycare two days a week, with an extra staff member in the room to help, and therapy for three days. Rick and Lorraine and her husband Jordan’s parents watch them on two afternoons every week. On top of that, Lorraine watches the boys so Potts can practice regularly while Rick coaches.

Potts’ smile takes up her entire face when she talks about her support network, and how happy and joyful her boys are. “We’re all obsessed with them,” she says. She also points out that curling is the break she needs.

“The one time I’m not worrying about my kids is when I’m on the ice. I think it’s the thing that keeps me sane,” Potts says. “But it’s a stretch to curl, even with all the support we have. I love it, but I wouldn’t curl if it wasn’t this team.”

Sippala echoes her best pal on that point. Her hospital shifts start as early as 6 a.m., and since her husband sometimes works early at the gym he co-owns, their two kids sleep over at their grandparents so they can be taken to school in the morning. “On top of all that, this is such a commitment,” Sippala says of curling. “Family, time off work — like, all my vacation. I can’t take time off at Christmas because I need to take my time off for curling. So I wouldn’t be doing it if the team didn’t mean so much to me.

“And this is where I start crying,” Sippala continues, her eyes welling with tears. “But it’s not just about the curling, right? Honestly, if the best team in the world asked me to play, I would probably say no. I don’t want to play with anyone else. They’re why I love it.”

McCarville directs the action at the 2023 Scotties.

O nce the team decided practice would be their primary focus, there was a noticeable change in dynamic at the rink between McCarville, Potts and Sippala, who practice together in Thunder Bay.

“It became far less social,” Lang says. “That’s because their time is so valuable even to get out for practice. We have what I like to call ‘mindful, purposeful time together,’ when we’re accomplishing something you can only do if you’re fully invested for that couple of hours. The sport demands that, and they’ve been really good at it.”

McCarville, Sippala and Potts are on the ice five days a week, often together, and with Lang, who McCarville points to as a key to their success. “He’s so smart, and he picks up on everything,” she says. “If he sees something we’re not doing, he’s there to tell us right away.”

Lilly usually practices alone in Sudbury, and Kelly’s on her own in Fredericton. Both players keep in touch with the team through video to ensure they’re on the same page technically. They use timers to clock their shots and work on pacing. “I think back to all the heartbreaking losses that we’ve had, and I just want to make sure I’m the most prepared I can be,” says the 32-year-old Lilly, who’s also an operations manager for a financial services group in Sudbury. “I make changes to my practice to keep myself as focused and as driven as ever. And there certainly hasn’t been the temptation to not practice, because we’re so close to what we’ve been working on this whole season.”

Kelly’s most frequent practice partner at home is her partner, Chris. “He calls himself my “practice b—-,’” the 38-year-old says, laughing. “Or he’ll say, ‘I’m your broom b—-.’”


Kelly is as a senior employment and labour relations officer for the Staff of the Non-Public Funds, Canadian Forces, which supports members, veterans and their families. She’s one of two lead negotiators in the organization, and travels frequently. At the bonspiel in Kemptville, she’s on her laptop working remotely. Still, she hits the ice to practice six or seven days a week for at least an hour, juggling work and curling, and the schedule of her eight-year-old daughter.

“She’s sending videos of herself throwing and asking, ‘Should I be more like this?” McCarville says of Kelly, who’s been working to put more rotation on her draw to better match her teammates’ throws. “She’s very, very into our team and working hard and doing whatever it takes to be the best. A lot of effort, a lot of energy. It’s awesome. She’s out there and we know it.”

Kelly was the change Team McCarville sought after a disappointing bronze medal at the Scotties last season. “We felt we were missing something,” McCarville says. “It’s been eight years we’ve been together, and we’re so close every time. We made all these tweaks on the ice. And then we decided we need to do something different. We all love each other and we want to curl together, but we don’t know what to do differently anymore. So, we decided to add Andrea. And luckily, she said yes when we asked her.”

Their first event as a five-woman team was September 2023 in Kitchener, Ont. Potts stayed back home. (McCarville and Kelly are the constants; Sippala, Potts and Lilly rotate on the front end.) Since the ice wasn’t ready in Thunder Bay, McCarville and Sippala had no practice under their belts before their first bonspiel. But the new version of Team McCarville went out and won the whole thing. “It felt really natural,” Kelly says, grinning.

“Curling is a passion of mine, a hobby. It’s not my life.”

Since that opening win this season, the team has played a busier-than-usual schedule, five events in all leading up to provincials in Little Current this week. Things haven’t gone quite as they’d hoped. They didn’t make it onto the champion’s Bristol board at the North Grenville Women’s Fall Classic, and finished out of the playoffs. There haven’t been any tournament titles since that first bonspiel.

“Every time I’m a spiel, I want to win it,” McCarville says. “I’m leaving my family, I’m leaving my job — I’m losing a lot of money leaving my job for a few days. I’m not here to goof around, I want to win. It’s not going to happen every time, I get that. It’s about the experience, being with the girls, doing all the things that’ll help us win the next one. And get to the Scotties and hopefully win the Scotties.”

The team got together for a training camp earlier this month, and placed second in their last bonspiel. “We’re hoping we’re peaking at the right time, and it’s all going to come together at provincials,” Lilly says.

McCarville is taking three days off from Holy Family School, where she teaches Grade 6 — her son, Kalin, is in her class and will have a supply. Sippala, Potts, Lilly and Kelly are all taking time off from work and time away from their families.

“We get asked this constantly: ‘Why don’t you play more? Why do you have a full-time job? You’re at the level where you can and should play more,’” McCarville says. “But all of us are like, ‘We don’t want to play that much more. We love our lives at home.’

“Curling is a passion of mine, a hobby. It’s not my life,” she adds. “I wanted to be a teacher since I was five years old, and I love my job. I’ve always wanted to be a mum. I’m a Type-A person. I have these goals and dreams for myself, and of course curling is one of them. But again, it’s a hobby. And if I can do it the amount that I do, I can juggle everything and fit it in.”

McCarville has noticed that when her team is playing well, they’re applauded for how much they practice. When they don’t play well, they’re criticized for how infrequently they compete.

“It’s frustrating that way, it’s like we don’t get respected for what we do. It’s always been a little bit harped on,” she says. “But I don’t care. We’re going to play the schedule we want. I’m 41 years old, I’ve done this for a long time, I’m not changing now. And this is what works for us.”

To those who wonder whether this team will ever reach its potential without playing more bonspiels, Potts says it’s a fair query. “And we’re never going to know,” she says, “because we’re not full-time curlers.”

Lang says he’d be lying if he didn’t sometimes wonder how this team would fare if they threw all their curling chips in. “I don’t want myself to think that, just because the reality is that’s not going to happen,” he says. “But I’d love to experience it and see where we could go. I think Krista’s a special talent and this team is really good and committed. I think they could take that next step and be champions, for sure.”

The goal instead is to juggle it all, and still be champions.

“Sometimes I think if we curled like the other teams, we would just be exhausted,” McCarville says. “Would we be excited to go to the next bonspiel? Would we feel up and ready to play again after playing this weekend? I don’t think so.

“I don’t want it to feel like a funeral going to the next bonspiel.”

Team McCarville (left to right: McCarville, Kelly, Lilly, Sippala and Potts) in their new and much admired kit.

E arly Wednesday morning, McCarville, Sippala, Potts and Lang piled into a car and set off on the 11-hour drive from Thunder Bay to Little Current ahead of their first game of provincials, which is Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

Kelly flew into Sudbury and made the hour-and-a-half drive with Lilly. “I can feel those flutters in my stomach because this week means so much to us,” Lilly says. “But we try to turn that nervousness into excitement. We have an opportunity to represent our province, which we just want so bad.”

So bad this year, and so so so bad next year, when the Scotties return to Thunder Bay. It’s a do-over for the team, since their home city last hosted the Scotties in 2022, when the stands were empty most of the time and limited to few fans for playoffs, because of Covid restrictions.

“It was like being in Thunder Bay but imprisoned in a cell — you couldn’t even walk outside to the parking lot,” Potts says. “My family’s two blocks away. Poor Lorraine is two blocks from the curling club and she couldn’t come watch those early games. So thank god we’re getting the Scotties back. When we did have fans, for the final, it really felt like we were the home team.”

Still, even with the support, Team McCarville lost 9-6 to the defending champions, Team Einarson.

“That one really hurt,” McCarville says. “And you feel like, ‘Am I ever going to get there again?’”

“That took a while to get over,” Sippala agrees. “Oh man, it always does. You just have a sense of broken heartedness. You live your life but when you think about it, you’re like, ‘Ouch!’ You get a twinge, right there.” She points at her heart.


All those heartbreakers behind them now, Team McCarville comes into these next big events feeling strong, with the addition of Kelly at third. “I would say that this is the most stacked that we’ve ever been, and I would certainly be scared to play us,” Lilly says.

“I truly do see us winning the Scotties, and in fact, when I joined this team, I think it was the first time I actually had that feeling and I could visually see us on the podium, winning gold,” Kelly says, grinning. “It was pretty amazing.”

But first things first: Team McCarville has to win the Northern Ontario Scotties on Sunday afternoon, and then McCarville, Potts, Sippala and Lang will hop in the car and drive home, overnight, so the players can get to their jobs Monday morning.

If all goes to plan they’ll show up in Calgary a few weeks later and do what they’ve been training to do for most of their lives.

“Now it’s starting to get to where it’s like, okay, we’re not happy just to be here at the Scotties anymore,” Potts says. “We wanna friggin’ win it.”

“We’re so close that it’s got to be coming, because I want it to,” McCarville adds. “I need it to.”

Photo Credits
Andrew Klaver/Curling Canada (4); courtesy of Rick Lang.