Any stress Rebecca Rodgers felt attending her first Junior National Championship is long gone by now. But even the veteran of the event admitted there’s a bit more pressure on her this year.
Rodgers, a Leyden, Mass., native and UW-Eau Claire student, is competing in her sixth Junior National Championship this week in Eau Claire and her first since being named to the USA Curling Junior High Performance Program.
The program, founded in 2010, was created with the goal of improving the United States’ success on the international stage. The junior women’s program consists of just two teams of nine total curlers.
“Being a High Performance team, everyone wants to beat you,” Rodgers said. “Everyone plays their best against you. That’s definitely a bit of an obstacle to overcome.”
Based on prior results, she’s up to the task. Rodgers has earned bronze the last two years, and is now gunning for gold alongside fellow High Performance rookies Delaney Strouse, Sydney Mullaney and Susan Dudt.
It won’t be easy, though, considering the other High Performance team, consisting of Cora Farrell, Cait Flannery, Allison Howell, Rebecca Miles and Leah Yavarow are also competing at the Eau Claire Country Club this week. Yavarow, Miles and Flannery are defending champs.
“Gunning for the playoffs is step No. 1,” said Rodgers’ coach, Susan Lang. “Then we take it from there, but yes, playing on Saturday in the finals is certainly the main goal.”
Rodgers, who has also competed in the last two Women’s National Championships, returned to Wisconsin last week to compete in a tournament following the holidays and then returned to Eau Claire in preparation for competition at a club she knows well.
“Rebecca’s just a wonderful person,” Lang said. “Very coachable, very open, very willing to learn more. … Rebecca is so open for new suggestions and so willing and capable of adjusting to them.”
Rodgers’ first competition of this year’s tournament came on Monday against Team Normandeau, named after skipper and fellow UWEC student Anya Normandau. The match was close for the first five ends, with Normandeau holding a 4-3 lead entering the sixth, before Team Strouse ended on a 6-0 run for a 10-4 victory.
“It’s always good to get the first game under your feet and get a feel for how things are going,” Rodgers said.
Team Strouse moved to 2-0 in the night cap, besting Team Crotty 10-2.
For Normandeau, the matchup with her fellow Blugold marked her third year of Junior National competition.
“We were in it for the first half, but then in the second half things kind of went downhill,” Normandeau said. “That tends to happen in curling.”
Team Normandeau wrapped up the first’s day’s action with a second frustrating loss, falling 11-8 to Team Jones after leading 7-5 heading into the seventh.
The third Blugold woman competing, Emma Rau, went 2-0 with Team McMakin. Her team bested Team Traxler 6-5 and Team Kitchens 7-6.
On the men’s side, UW-Eau Claire’s Noah Witte went 1-1 with Team Randall. The squad defeated Team Murray 7-5 and fell 9-5 to Team Violette.