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B.C. rinks on the rise as they look to end Brier and Scotties national championship droughts

20 best teams in province at Archie Browning Centre this week
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Team Schneider skip Catlin Schneider releases a rock at the B.C. Curling Championships on Wednesday at the Archie Browning Sports Centre in Esquimalt. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The 20 rinks, 12 men’s and eight women’s, gathered at the Archie Browning Sports Centre for the 2024 B.C. championships represent the tip of the iceberg of the 25,000 regular curlers in the province who play in 88 clubs.

Curl B.C. says 125,000 British Columbians have curled at least once in the last year, including through school programs and social events and the like, as the sport has surpassed pre-COVID-19 levels.

A wide base is important, but a pyramid can have only one point at the top and that’s what the 20 best teams in the province represent this week at Archie Browning as the winners will advance to the Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts men’s and women’s Canadian championships, respectively.

But they are trying to sweep, literally and figuratively, away some droughts. B.C. has won the Scotties national championship nine times since the nationals were inaugurated in 1960, but not since the Kelly Scott rink in 2006. The 2000 B.C. champion rink of Kelley Law included Victoria curlers Julie Skinner and Georgina Wheatcroft, and went on to win the bronze medal representing Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Melissa Soligo, now high-performance director for Curl B.C. and the provincial coach, was 1991 B.C. women’s champion with the Victoria rink that included Julie and Jodie Sutton and Karri Willms. Before that was the 1987 B.C., national Scotties and world champion Pat Sanders rink from Victoria. The goal is to return to those heady levels.

“Curling in B.C. is getting stronger and the fields deeper,” said Soligo, the Islander who won a bronze medal when curling was a demonstration sport at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics.

“Our B.C. Tour is fantastic, but we need more opportunities for our top rinks to play outside the province against the best of the best. We need more exposure to the higher-level elite teams across the country and that is happening more and more. We have several teams capable of doing well on the national stage this year.”

B.C. has won the Brier four times since 1927, but not since 2000 with the Greg McAulay rink.

“There’s a lot of depth in this field,” said Scott Braley, CEO and executive director of Curl B.C. “Team Brown and Team Grandy are in the women’s mix and are ranked seventh and 13th nationally,” said Island-raised Braley, a graduate of Vic High.

“We also have a lot of capable men’s rinks. Brent Pierce [the third on the 2000 McAulay rink] is a former Brier and world champion.”

Royal City’s Pierce also represented B.C. in the 2022 Brier. Also with Brier experience is Catlin Schneider, who skips the Victoria Curling Club rink, which won last year’s B.C. men’s championship in Chilliwack with Jacques Gauthier skipping. Schneider has played with Saskatchewan champion rinks in three Briers and said it often comes down to managing the moment.

“It is the best curling event every year in the world and an unreal environment,” said Schneider. “The hype and largeness of it within Canadian curling feels so big. You feel like you’re on top of the world for 10 days.”

The battle to get there continues through the week. B.C. championship draws are at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. each day through Saturday at Archie Browning. The championship games are on Sunday with the women’s at 9 a.m. and men’s at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the door or through Eventbrite.

The B.C. men’s champion will advance to the Brier national championship, March 1-10, in Regina and the provincial women’s champion to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national championship, Feb. 16-25, in Calgary.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com