Centerville Curling Club v Centerville, Wis. v  January 28-Feb. 7

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Minnesota teams golden at Junior Nationals

February 7, 2004

CENTERVILLE, Wis. Ė Two Minnesota teams claimed all the gold at the USA Curling 2004 Junior Nationals today at the Centerville Curling Club.

Skip Aileen Sormunen and Minnesota 2 teammates Courtney George, Amanda Jensen and Amanda McLean (all of Duluth, Minn.) dominated their game against Wisconsin 2, winning 9-3 in seven ends. They are coached by Cyndee Johnson (Duluth).

On the menís side, Minnesotaís John Shuster (Chisholm, Minn.), Jason Smith (Chisholm), Kevin Johnson (Winnebago, Minn.), Shane McKinlay (Duluth, Minn.) and alternate Chase Schmitt (Bemidji, Minn.) won a 7-5 battle over North Dakota. Minnesota is coached by Bob Fenson (Bemidji, Minn.).

Wisconsin 2, with Katie Dassow (La Crosse, Wis.), Megan OíConnell, Jaclyn Mueller (both of Medford, Wis.), Beth Heston (Brookfield, Wis.) and alternate Sydney Johnson (Portage, Wis.), scored the first point of the game, with the hammer in the opening end, but by the time they scored again, Minnesota 2 had piled up six points. Sormunenís team added three more in the sixth for a 9-2 lead, and after being held to a single point in the seventh, Wisconsin 2 conceded.

"We knew what we had to do and just went out and did it," said Sormunen, 16, whose team finished second the last two seasons and third in 2001. "Our strategy was to play the outsides of the rings. That worked well for us in the semifinals, so we thought weíd go with that again. It worked, and once we got going, we didnít stop. We were so pumped."

Dassowís team admittedly did not have its best game. "We just didnít pick the lines up right, or didnít pick the weight up, or something," she said. "We wanted to get to this game, so we met that goal. I think if we had played like we did earlier this week, we could have won."

The U.S. women, who chose Alaska skip Jessica Schultz (Anchorage) to be their alternate, will represent their country at the 2004 World Junior Curling Championships March 20-28 in Trois Rivieres, Quebec. They have some experience on their side. George was an alternate on the Cassie Johnson team, also from Minnesota, that won the World Junior Championship in 2002 and took the silver medal in 2003. Sormunen was an alternate player the 2001 Junior Worlds.

"It was fun and everything, but I wanted to get back with my own team," she said.

As Sormunen left the ice, her father, Seppo, enveloped her in his arms and said, ""Finally, all of your hard work has paid off." Seppo said he first took his daughter on the curling ice when she was nine. She played third for him a year later in the Superior (Wis.) family mixed bonspiel, along with Aileenís mother, Anita, and brother, Grant. They won that event two years running.

The menís final was much tighter throughout, with North Dakotaís Zach Jacobson (Langdon, N.D.), Joe Polo (Cass Lake, Minn.), Jeff Thune (Hibbing, Minn.) and Zane Jacobson (Langdon, N.D.) leading 2-1 after four ends. Shuster made a big statement with the last rock of the first half, though, making a long angle raise takeout to thwart a North Dakota steal of one and instead net Minnesota two points and a 3-2 lead.

"Thatís a game-breaker," said Shuster, 21, a student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. "You know thatís a game-breaker before you throw it. For some reason I just took my thoughts to the next level and just threw it. That shot gave my team a big boost."

The momentum continued in Minnesotaís favor when North Dakota came up inches short on a draw to the button for one in the sixth end, resulting in a steal of one for Minnesota. "If we had taken an inch less ice, we would have had it," said Jacobson, whose team was also runner-up to a Minnesota rink at the 2003 championships. "We needed the button and we got the button, but just not enough of it. That and my draw in the fourth, when I came up short for two, really hurt."

North Dakota, like Wisconsin 2, seemed to have a tough time getting a handle on draw weight and the line to call for various shots. With around 250 people seated in bleachers and chairs around the ice, plus another 150 or so in the clubhouse, the ice conditions were undoubtedly different than they had been all week at the championships, which were being presented by the Coulee Region Lions Clubs.

"The ice was a little different with all the people out there, but we didnít make every roll we needed, didnít make every draw. It was just little things like that," said Jacobson, whose team was undefeated in its previous 10 games this week. Going 10-1 is little comfort, though, when the one loss comes in the most important game.

Minnesota, meanwhile, pretty much had the golden touch. "We came out and finally had it," said Shuster. "I mean, we really had it this game."

Shusterís team does not have a World Championship to shoot for since the U.S. men did not qualify for the 2004 Junior Worlds after a fifth-place finish at the 2004 World Junior B Championships in Denmark earlier in January. However, Shuster will have a chance to reach that stage in another level yet this year, as he is the lead on the reigning menís national champion Pete Fenson rink, which will try to defend its title Feb. 28-March 6 in Grand Forks, N.D.