Curling: Island women on their way to B.C. Scotties

For more than a decade, there’s been a near drought of competitive women’s curling teams on Vancouver Island. But not this year.

Three Island women’s teams have qualified for the B.C. Scotties Tournament of Hearts, being held Jan. 6-12, in Prince George. As an added thrill for local curling fans, all three play out of the Victoria Curling Centre.

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Teams skipped by Sarah Wark, Kesa Van Osch, and Shawna Jensen secured the B.C. berths last weekend in open playdowns in Lake Cowichan.

“I don’t remember there ever being three women’s teams from the Island,” said Wark’s coach Roselyn Craig, one of the few women’s players to remain dedicated to competitive curling over the years. Craig and former teammate Pat Sanders won two world seniors crowns, and Sanders won the world women’s championship in 1987, but the pair often put a team in playdowns just so the Island would retain a spot at the women’s provincial level.

“I’m over the moon,” Craig said “It really bodes well for the Island.”

What has the future looking particularly bright is the youth of this year’s three teams. Wark, 27, who will be making her sixth appearance at women’s provincials, along with teammates Michelle Allen, Simone Brosseau, and Rachelle Kallechy, is by far the most experienced skip of the group.

A B.C. Junior winner in 2005, Wark also has the backing of former B.C. junior champ Allen, who also won B.C. women’s championships with both Sanders and Kelly Scott.

“Our goal is to be successful,” Wark said, looking toward the opportunities offered by the Olympics and the World Curling Tour. “We definitely put this team together with a minimum two-year commitment.

“You can’t just build your career in a season.”

To that end, the Wark team plays, as do the other teams, in the Select League at Victoria, but is the only one to also play in the Juan de Fuca ladies league. This year they’re focusing on training.

“They wanted to have a building year, stay at home, a do a lot of practising,” Craig said.

While Wark has Scotties experience, Van Osch, from Nanaimo, is entering her first campaign at the women’s level, and Jensen, 19, is still a junior, headed for junior playdowns next month. Both teams include a mix of Islanders and players commuting from the Lower Mainland.

Van Osch, however, was a B.C. champion in 2012, curling with younger sisters Kalia and Marika. All three sisters were named all-stars, and the Nanaimo team narrowly missed making the final at the Canadians.

Moving into women’s play last season, Van Osch attempted to put a team together, but it “fell apart.” This year, she wanted commitment from teammates Stephanie Baier — a seasoned curler with provincial Scotties experience who has been on numerous B.C. junior champion teams — Jessie Sanderson, and lead Carley Sandwith, but was also geared toward fun and camaraderie. “It’s always good to enjoy each other’s company, when you’re going to be stuck with them for days on end.”

The Van Osch rink has competed in three cashspiels so far this season, qualifying in two of them, and Van Osch is thrilled to be taking in the B.C. Scotties experience. “I’m looking forward to the journey of it,” she said.

For Jensen, and teammates Merit Thorson, Tatianna Simicic, and Jade Shultis, the Scotties will be experience with a capital ‘E’. “It’s surreal,” said Jensen, a 2012 B.C. high school champion from Tsawwassen. “It’s not anything we thought of at the beginning of the season.

“It’s one of our faraway goals we’ve actually reached.”

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