Curling, Year 3 — Winning my first game as skip

The scoreboard from my first winning game as a skip on Monday, Feb. 26, 2019, at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

The scoreboard from my first winning game as a skip on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

The winter season of my third year of curling is winding down. We’re heading into the playoffs today, and I’m happy that I helped get our team on its best possible footing by winning my first game as a skip (or captain, if you prefer).

We’re heading into the playoffs with a 3-4 record, which is one reason why the other teammates were willing to let me hold the broom on Feb. 25. Heading into the last regular-season game at 2-4, we weren’t super effective during our prior game and let a close match turn into a rout.

I have to admit that I contributed to the loss — I strongly questioned some of the shot calling during a key point in the game. I did my best to shake it off and voice my support for the skip’s calls after that, but it was tough and I worried that I wasn’t doing my part to support the team effort.

After that tough end, all of us were off and the rest of the game didn’t end well. Afterward, Robert said I could skip the last game, in part, because it didn’t matter too much. I readily accepted because I was ready to try my hand again at skipping.

Heading into the last game, my all-time record as a skip could only be charitably described as abysmal. IIRC, I was 0 and 3. Two of those losses were relatively close — they came down to the last shot and my team just was on the losing end of those. My third loss was a blowout and I readily took the advice from my acting third/vice Thom to quit the game after it was clearly out of hand.

Although I’ve played around 60 games in my three years curling, I only skipped those four times. I’ve been happy to focus on contributing to the team in other ways, while leaving the skipping to others.

While I was excited to give being skip another shot, I quickly realized what our team strengths were. I agreed to be skip, but I announced that we would be keeping the same playing order — with me as lead, Andrew second, Carl third and Robert playing fourth. Traditionally, skips throw the last stones because those last two shots are generally considered the most important during each end of the game (and there’s a lot of pressure on the skip to make those shots).

As the sport of curling has evolved over the past 20 years, it’s become more common for skips to play out of order, e.g. not throwing fourth. A handful of the top teams in the world play with their skips in different positions.

I wasn’t necessarily thinking of the top teams when I set the playing order for Feb. 25. I was thinking about how our team played all season. Andrew and I had thrown first or second (aka, the front end), while Karl and Robert had thrown third or fourth (aka, the back end).

Each playing position has different roles to play as an end unfolds. While we obviously weren’t playing at our best during the season, I felt that we were in the positions that suited our strengths. Andrew and I could throw draws that would shape into guards in front of the house or settle down in the house. Karl and Robert often threw hits that we might need for takeouts or raises later in the end.

I opted to stay as lead while skipping because I wanted to help quickly get a read on the ice for the rest of the team (and Andrew is using a different delivery method that makes it difficult to get a time that works for the others on the team). I also was reluctant to throw third or fourth because I readily need more work on takeouts (I’ve been playing front end for most of my three years).

The order was set, but as game night neared, I began worrying more about the strategy — the other big component of being a skip. Throughout the season, I had been helping with reading the ice and occasionally offering some possible shot calls to the skip, but I hadn’t called an entire game, continuously thought about the ice or how my teammates were making shots.

I had been watching a decent amount of curling on TV this year. It’s been helpful to guess what shots the teams will take, see what shots they took and if it was effective. However, those are elite teams — they’ll be able to take shots that would be extremely difficult for less-experienced teams on less-than-perfect ice.

I went back through curling books on my Kindle for some curling strategy pointers heading into the game. There’s a lot of useful info in the books, but my eyes started to gloss over when the books started delving into shot strategy for specific setups (it’s useful, but I would require far more time than a couple days to really absorb such focused discussions).

Also, as Monday neared, it dawned on me that this game wouldn’t be as insignificant as we thought. Sure, we had a 2-4 record heading into the game, but most of the teams in the league were bunched together. Only one team had a 5-1 record — the rest had done a good job of beating up on each other. We were ranked seventh out of nine, but we could improve our postseason placement with a win.

I also saw the team we were playing — it was one that we nearly beat last season, but they won on a superb angle-raise to the button by Stefan. We had a chance of beating this team, but they weren’t going to be pushovers.

The basic strategies set forth in the curling books helped me formulate a straightforward plan that I thought we could follow to help score points when we had the hammer (the last-shot advantage) and to minimize giving up a big end when the opposing team had hammer.

When we gathered for the Monday game, I made sure we got together for a quick team meeting so that we would all be on the same page. The strategy would be pretty simple (it’s also fairly common, so I don’t feel I’m spilling secrets listing them here):

  • Try to get a read on the ice as quickly as possible. Use my lead stones to determine how the ice was acting.
  • Control the front of the house and stay above the tee line. It’s not the end of the world if a guard slips into the house, especially if it stays above the tee.
  • Let the ice work for us, especially for takeouts. Instead of throwing heat when it’s not necessary, ease up a bit and let the ice and the sweepers help the stone out.
  • Focus on draws, instead of takeouts.
  • Communicate. Make sure everyone is on the same page before each stone is delivered.
  • I also resolved to be very positive and encouraging with my teammates. While winning is nice, curling is a sport that is supposed to be fun.
  • How we deliver the first stones depended on if we had the hammer or not. I decided that we would start off with an aggressive style of play.

While that was our game plan, the outcome depended on execution. Things weren’t perfect, but we got off to a fast start.

We took advantage of starting with the hammer and put a decent number of rocks in the house. I did my best to split the house to set up multiple points and used guards to our advantage. In the first end, there was a port in front of the house that someone could use to put a rock into the house. We tried to block it, but our stone went a little deep to the tee line. The opposition team wasn’t able to get into the house and we took three to start.

In the second, we didn’t have the hammer, so we worked to force the opposing team to just one point. I got more aggressive when we were able to get several rocks in the house and ended up stealing two.

The opposition team held onto the hammer for the third end, which turned out to be fairly similar to the second.  At the end, we had three in scoring position and the opposition had to take out one for a single point.

We had the hammer for the fourth end, which was probably the messiest end. After setting up a couple guards on the left side of the sheet, a stone went a little deep behind the button. I didn’t want to take it out right away, instead trying to stay in front of it. That started a series of draws to the button. We found the right line and did a decent job of freezing or coming close.

The opposing team tried to clean things up, but there were still a couple of rocks near the lid. The opposing team’s last shot was solid, but we could get out of trouble with another draw near the button. It was a little heavy, but it was close. We gave up one (after measuring to see who had the second shot).

Execution wasn’t perfect early in the game. I got a little frustrated (and loud) when the sweepers didn’t stop sweeping when I called “off.” Thankfully, it didn’t affect the outcome of the game and they got better on listening to the call. Communication was important — I wanted the sweepers to give me more clues about the speed of the rock and the sweepers wanted me to communicate more about if the shot was on line.

Making sure everyone was on the same page helped secure the win. In the fifth end, we had the hammer. I was happy to keep on drawing to the button, but the other teammates (particularly the third) wanted to do takeouts on two opposition rocks near the center of the house. It was a sound strategy — taking out opposition stones reduces their chances of stealing more than one point (although we would want to score with hammer).

Although I was worried that takeouts aren’t a strong suit for our team, my teammates were confident they could make the shots — especially because it was on ice that we were familiar with. I reminded them to throw with just a little less weight and use the ice and we were able to get several takeouts.

Once a skip makes a call, the rest of the team is supposed to go along. During what would turn out to be our last shot of the game, I could see that we weren’t settled on what the plan was so I held up my arms to stop everything. After hearing that Carl was confident he could make the takeout, I was convinced and set up for the takeout. We took out one of opposition stones (and we were sitting shot, IIRC). It left one of theirs near the button but it would be difficult for them to score more than one (and they needed three to tie and force a tiebreaker).

At that point, the opposition had two or three stones remaining, but they had seen enough and conceded. We were in the fifth end, but the scoreboard reflected the score through four ends.

After the game was won, I reflected that it was my first win skipping. It was something that didn’t cross my mind when we were playing the game. Afterward, I was happy for the accomplishment.

It may be a short-lived feeling, especially because we will need to win our last two games to finish with a winning record on the season. We’re heading into the playoffs tonight and our first opponent is a familiar one — the same team we faced  on Feb. 25. It will be interesting to see how this game unfolds.

2019 Continental Cup builds to an exciting finale

On the closest sheet, Team North America (skipped by Brad Gushue) sweeps a stone into the house against Team World, lead by Bruce Mouat, during the 2019 Continental Cup on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

On the closest sheet, Team North America (skipped by Brad Gushue) sweeps a stone into the house against Team World, lead by Bruce Mouat, during the 2019 Continental Cup on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Today is the final day of the 2019 Continental Cup at the Orleans Arena. Judging by the first three days of competition between Team North America and Team World, the final day could be electric.

The final two sessions are at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT. Coverage streams online at ESPN3 and broadcast in Canada on TSN.

The World team has definitely had the better of the North Americans in the first three days. Team World has a commanding five-point lead in the race to 30.5 (17.5 to 12.5). Team North America had been further behind, but swept the final round of scramble play for a crucial six points.

Setting the points aside, the competition has had numerous highlights over the first nine rounds of games. There have been blowouts, close battles, barely missed shots at the absolute worst time and clutch shots to seal the win. Last night’s double by John Shuster of Team North America is a great example of a key shot.

I’ve said that curling is fun to watch, but it’s even more fun to play. The atmosphere at the Orleans Arena almost makes me want to change my position (although I may have different thoughts when I step into the hack for my Monday night league).

The level of competition has been outstanding. It’s thrilling to watch these world-class athletes perform and consistently make shots that would be daunting for the average club curler.

The fans are definitely a key contributor to the fun atmosphere at the Orleans. As a volunteer, I’ve been able to interact with many fans and they’re virtually all positive and upbeat about curling. When the fans are in the stands, the setting becomes dynamic.

The audience doesn’t cheer through the whole game. This is another area where curling is like golf — it can be a quiet as a mouse when a team is setting up a shot, However, the crowd definitely shows its appreciation for great shots and good wins.

At the end of Saturday night’s games, the applause was thunderous after Team North America swept the session. It was awesome to see thousands of cheering curling fans — it’s something that’s not too common at events in the United States (although more common in Canada).

Today, it comes down to the final two rounds of competition — the skins game. Continental Cup supporters like to compare this event to golf’s Ryder Cup and this is one area where the comparison is apt.

There’s a lot of points on the table — five per game. Each end (like a baseball inning) for the first six ends is worth 0.5 points. The last two ends are worth a whole point.

It’s not easy to win a skin. The team with the hammer scoring advantage has to score at least two points to claim their prize. The non-hammer team can steal the skin by scoring one point. If neither team reaches their objective, the skin carries over and the pot grows slightly larger.

WIth a total of 30 points on the table today, either team has a shot to win the Continental Cup. Last year, Team World had been behind, but finished with a strong skins performance — resulting in the first-ever tie at 30-30.

Team North America won the tiebreaker as North America’s Brad Gushue edged out World’s Thomas Ulsrud in a playoff to see which team could get a single stone to the center of the house.

We’ll see today whether the 2019 competition will be as close as last year. Will Team North America complete its comeback or will Team World hold them off and win its first cup in six years? I’m excited to find out.

Getting my first pair of shoes at the Continental Cup

A pair of curling shoes purchased from Brooms Up Curling Supplies at the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A pair of curling shoes purchased from Brooms Up Curling Supplies at the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A lot of people new to the sport of curling often ask if it’s expensive to participate in. Thankfully, the answer is no for the individual curler.

In a lot of ways, getting into curling is like going to the bowling alley. In bowling, you pay for a lane or a certain number of games. In curling, you pay for ice time.

The sport of bowling calls for bowling balls and shoes, but the alley often makes those available for casual participants.

It’s similar in curling — you need a broom to sweep and a special slider for the bottom of your shoe, but most clubs have some available for newer players to borrow.

(Also, the curling stones are owned by the club, just as a bowling alley owns the pins).

As I’ve gotten more involved in curling, I’ve slowly started acquiring personal equipment. Many curlers recommend getting shoes first because that would have the biggest impact on your game.

Unfortunately, shoes are a little pricey, so my first purchase was a curling broom (which was about 45 percent of the cost of shoes). I felt it was a good upgrade compared with the heavier house brooms. I certainly feel more effective with my own broom.

I’m now in a position to buy shoes, but there aren’t a lot of physical curling stores in much of the United States.

Thankfully, one of the American vendors, Brooms Up Curling Supplies, has a mobile showroom that travels to different curling events — including the 2019 Continental Cup.

While many supplies are available for purchase online, I enjoy being able to browse gear in person and try it on for size. The Brooms Up trailer is good for this, as the owner Gary carries a lot of the major manufacturers gear (but not all).

With the Brooms Up trailer parked between the Orleans Arena and the casino, a lot of curling fans drop by after  draws. I was able to drop by Friday and buy my first pair of curling shoes.

As you can tell from the photo at the top of this post, they’re not the most glamorous but I’m hoping they will do the trick. The left shoe includes a built-in slider (currently covered by a rubber gripper) that will help me glide across the ice. With the gripper on the left shoe and a rubber sole on the right, I should be able to walk on the ice with confidence.

My next challenge will be actually using these shoes. Even a small change to my delivery can have a big impact on the game and these new shoes are a big shift.

Also, I’ve never previously moved around on the slider after delivering a stone. Instructors and anyone with common sense caution standing up on a slip-on slider and I’ve certainly fallen a couple times when I forget.

I imagine it will take me a while to used to shuffling around on a slider. I’ll certainly exercise caution, but I’m excited about this next step in my curling experience.

Getting the joke at the Continental Cup

Mixed doubles during Draw 5 of the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019.

Mixed doubles during Draw 5 of the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019.

Watching curling in person can be a unique experience, especially at this weekend’s Continental Cup in Las Vegas. Watching with several thousand enthusiastic fans who are knowledgeable about the game really takes it up the next level.

Watching curling in person offers fans a chance to watching multiple games at the same time (versus TV focusing on one game with highlights from the rest). That increases the likelihood of watching an interesting play develop.

At the same time, it can be a little daunting for a newer fan. The first international competition I attended was the 2018 World Men’s Curling Championships, also in Vegas. There were four sheets in play (as opposed to three here this weekend). It was easy to focus on a specific sheet and be a little late noticing something interesting happening elsewhere on the ice.

I had an easier time watching with the three sheets in play this weekend, but I still missed one or two key plays.

If you can’t make it to Vegas for the final two days of the competition, watching a curling competition on a screen does have its advantages especially if the broadcasting team clicks with the audience. Certainly the TSN crew airing the Continental Cup gets a lot of kudos. Fans in the U.S. can watching online on ESPN3 (or on Curling Canada’s YouTube channel about two days after each individual event airs).

Some fans in the audience get the best of both worlds — watching in person and listening in on the TSN broadcast team of Vic Rauter and former Olympians Cheryl Bernard and Russ Howard. Fans who purchased tickets to every event received a headset that allowed them to listen to the TSN feed.

Fans who bought tickets to the entire event received ear buds that allowed them to listen to the network broadcast in the arena.

Fans who bought tickets to the entire event received ear buds that allowed them to listen to the network broadcast in the arena.

Apparently, a lot of people bought this package. At some points during the competition, most of the audience erupted in what appeared to be spontaneous laughter. It wasn’t necessarily in response to something happening on the ice (although some of the athletes like to joke around and fans indulge them with laughs).

I quickly wondered if there was some joke that I was missing. That was literally the case — it appears everyone tuning into the TSN broadcast was able to hear some quip and reacted appropriately. (Sample joke after the camera spotted a couple dressed as characters from “The Flintstones” — There’s Fred and Wilma. And Pebbles is on the ice. That’s relatively funny and super corny if you’re a curling fan)..

I was a little sad that I missed the joke, but it definitely shows how many diehard curling fans are in the audience.

Watching the world’s best curlers in Las Vegas

A decal stating Las Vegas Curling Rocks is posted on a door at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 3, 2018. The casino is hosting the 2019 Continental Cup.

A decal stating Las Vegas Curling Rocks is posted on a door at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 3, 2018. The casino is hosting the 2019 Continental Cup.

Today is the first day of the 2019 Continental Cup of Curling at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. If you haven’t seen this event before, I would say it’s well worth your time if you’re a fan of the game. In the U.S., games stream on ESPN3 online (with replays shared on the Curling Canada YouTube channel about 48 hours later).

Six of the world’s best teams are competing this weekend in a format similar to the Ryder Cup. This time, it’s Team North America against Team World.

Teams include gold medalists from the 2018 Winter Olympics including women’s champion Team Hasselborg of Sweden and men’s champion Team Shuster of the United States. The rest of the roster is loaded with top athletes, including four Canadian teams, five additional European teams and Team Sinclair from the U.S.

One of the things that sets the Continental Cup apart from other international events is that it’s generally more fun and not just because it’s in Las Vegas. As far as I know, the stakes are little lower because the outcome of the event won’t affect any of the teams’ chances to qualify for a national championship or a spot at the Olympics.

Teams do play for pride and a share of a decent-sized jackpot, but it appears to be a chance for athletes to have a little fun in the middle of the season before going off to national championships (in the case of Canada and the United States).

The Continental Cup often shakes things up, on and off the ice. On the ice, the competition is arranged so individual squads are broken up and recombined in various ways — including setting up pairs to play on mixed doubles squads or assembling new teams for the new team scramble format.

The traditional teams of four will have regular matches, but even that’s mixed up over the course of the weekend as the final day features a skins format.

Off the ice, the teams have areas to cheer their teammates on. This is generally different from other competitions, where teams who aren’t playing usually don’t come the arena.

All of this adds up to something special. The athletes look like they’re having a lot of fun and the competition is a blast to watch. Last year’s event ended in a tie that had to be broken with curling’s equivalent of a shootout.

The Continental Cup is also a great opportunity to see different teams from around the world face off. Last year’s event preceded the Olympics and the games offered an excellent preview of what happened in South Korea, including the fact that John Shuster was ready to make a splash on the international stage.

There are three rounds a day today through Saturday. On Sunday, there are two rounds of skins games. Coverage from every round (or draw) airs live on TSN in Canada and is available on ESPN3 in the U.S.

It will be exciting to see how this year’s event unfolds.

Curling season 3 starts with ups and downs

We started the fall season with a win, finishing with a score of 5-3.

We started the fall season with a win, finishing with a score of 5-3.

Tonight is the fourth week of the new curling season at the Utah Olympic Oval. Things for my team on Monday have been going OK, although we’re struggling a bit during games. The first game went rather well (as evidenced by the scoreboard at the top of this post), but we didn’t fare well during weeks 2 and 3.

It was great to be back on the ice. I usually take the summer off because my schedule doesn’t fit with the league night during the spring and summer sessions. However, there was no curling at all because the ice had to be taken out of the Oval last spring for scheduled repairs to the ice equipment. The last event on the ice before the maintenance was USA Curling’s 2018 Arena National Championships.

There was an open curling practice the Thursday before the start of league. I usually wouldn’t be able to go, but I had the night off because of the Labor Day holiday. There were seven other people and it was wonderful just to get used to all things curling.

On the first Monday, I got to meet my new team. For whatever reason, I don’t particularly mind not sticking with a team from season to season. As a result, my team’s lineup changes often, although myself and Joe have been the most consistent elements over the past two years.

This season, we added Karl and Robert to the lineup, both players I hadn’t really interacted with before. Our game started with myself, Joe and Karl. Robert was a little late because he was coming from the dentist. I admired his dedication — I don’t know if I would try to get on the ice right after something like that (which was more than a routine visit). We started out with the three-person rotation with me throwing the first three rocks, Karl taking the second set of three stones and Joe taking the last two. When Robert arrived, he played the second pair while Karl, acting as vice skip, delivered rocks 5 and 6.

We, playing the yellow stones, got off to a slow start, as evidenced by the scoreboard above. I believe we started with the hammer, but wasn’t able to get on the board until the third end. It was nice that things were still close until the fifth end, when we were able to leap ahead with three points.

The fifth end was a lot of fun, especially because I threw a double takeout (removing two of the opposition’s stones from play). After the match, my old teammate Travis said the double takeout was a little cheap — the opposing stones were right next to each other in the back of the house, making it an easy target. I responded that I got the double while playing lead — it takes an extraordinary set of circumstances for me to be able to take out two rocks.

Adapting to the ice

As usual, we struggled with the ice. We play on a rink that primarily dedicated to figure skating and speedskating (there’s another sheet dedicated to hockey and both rinks are surrounded by a long oval used for public skating and speedskating).

In curling, it’s ideal that the ice is level. Unfortunately, in general arenas, that is difficult to accomplish unless there is a lot of dedicated work to make the ice level. There are some weeks where the ice plays pretty level, but we often have to deal with the ice “falling” a certain way. In these situations, the stones will drift toward a certain area regardless of the direction that we want the stones to go in.

Uneven ice makes the game challenging and the team that best adapts to it has a significant advantage. Also, it’s not an unfair situation — both teams have to play on the same ice and face the same conditions.

Because both teams play under the same conditions, observant players can watch how each team delivers their shots. Although every player is different, it provides important information on how the ice is reacting and offers insight on which shot to select.

In that fifth end, being observant helped us get that three points. We had been sitting three with two stones toward the outside of the rings under cover and one near the button. The red team took out the shot rock near the button and stayed to count shot.

Having the hammer, we had one last shot. As Joe got into the hack to take his shot, I noticed that our vice skip had positioned the broom differently than the red vice had (the broom is used to provide a target for the player delivering the stone). I called out an audible — if we positioned our broom identically to the red team, we had the best shot of duplicating their result and scoring three. The vice moved the broom and we easily landed the hit and stay for three.

Preparing the ice

During the first week, I was partly responsible for the ice conditions. For the first time, I helped “pebble” the surface by spraying water over the ice to create the running surface for the stones to slide over. I had learned how to pebble during the arena nationals, but it was my first time covering a full field of play.

If you ever see video of someone pebbling, it looks fairly effortless. I can tell you that that there are some challenges — you’re walking backward the entire time with a large water tank strapped on your back while waving a wand back and forth repeatedly. When you’re pebbling, you want to apply the water as consistently as possible so you’re trying to keep a steady walking pace while moving your arm at a steady, but brisk tempo.

I think I did an OK job, although there are several things I’d like to work to improve on. It was definitely a lot of work to do just before a match and I was pretty winded. My right arm was sore for days afterward.

Missing the right way

Our first week ended on a high note. Moving into the final end of the night, we were up by one, but the red team had the hammer and shot last. If they scored one and tied, we would go to a draw-to-the-button tiebreaker. Ecstatic after we scored three, I told my teammates that we should “steal away home” and win the match.

As the end developed, it appeared it was going to be challenge to get a steal. The red team had a rock sitting on the button, but there were two stones in the back of the 4-foot ring that could act as a backstop.

We tried various shots and couldn’t get near the button. In our last shot, Joe threw an inturn stone toward the left side of the sheet hoping it would drift around a yellow guard and hit the button.

Unfortunately, the line wasn’t wide enough and it started moving toward the guard. Robert and I were sweeping, but it was clear that the stone could crash on the guard. Seeing an opportunity, I shouted to Robert that we should play off the guard stone and I swept to hopefully get the best angle between the two stones.

The shot struck the guard and Robert swept the second yellow stone right toward the button, where it pushed the red stone into the backstop and we were sitting shot rock. The red team still had one stone, but they faced an incredibly difficult shot to try to push ours out of the way.

It was close, but we prevailed and escaped with the win.

We all congratulated Joe on his shot, and he replied that that wasn’t his shot. I didn’t mind — one thing that many expert curlers emphasize, including Russ Howard in his book “Curl to Win,” is missing the right way. That basically means to consider contingencies that will either help you or at least not hurt you.

Weeks 2 and 3

Our next two games didn’t go so well (which may be why I don’t have any photos of them). I missed our second match because of a work emergency (but got to sub on Thursday and had a lot of fun). Joe also curls on Thursday and told me that we got on the board early, but couldn’t slow down the team Game of Stones (which won Monday league last winter).

Last Monday, I was back but Karl wasn’t there. Joe, Robert and I faced off against Team Mischo. Mischo is skipped by Keith Mischo, who won bronze at the World Deaf Curling Championships in 2017. We had our work cut out for ourselves and it was a struggle all night.

We got on the board near the end, but Team Mischo pretty much romped over us.

I again threw lead and I realized that I needed to be doing a better job — most of my stones were short of the house, even when I was asked to throw draws closer to the button. When I tried to increase my delivery weight, I pushed a couple of stones through the house entirely and out of play. Thankfully, I haven’t yet thrown a stone this season that was so short it was out of play (called hogging). It’s been a silver lining so far and I hope that keeps up.

Our match ended a little early, so I had some extra time to practice my delivery. That is something that is very much a work in progress and another thing I would like to improve this season.

On to the next episode…

Back in the hack for year 3 of curling

That was the conclusion of the final end of my second year of curling (it's not my shot). We were playing yellow, but an attempt to use the dial tool dislodged a stone so we called it a tie. Our skip, Joe, won the sudden-death draw to the button.

That was the conclusion of the final end of my second year of curling (it’s not my shot). We were playing yellow, but an attempt to use the dial tool dislodged a stone so we called it a tie. Our skip, Joe, won the sudden-death draw to the button.

I started my third full year in curling two weeks ago at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns. It was great to get back to a sport that I’ve come to enjoy over the past two years.

Considering that my involvement in the sport has ramped up in the past few years (including attending the World Men’s Curling Championship in Las Vegas and volunteering for a national event in Salt Lake City), I thought it would be fun to share some of my experiences on the ice. I’m not a competitive curler by any stretch of the imagination, but I definitely hope to continue getting better and make a positive contribution to whatever team I’m playing on.

My team in Monday curling league (Team 20/20) ended the winter season on a high note. We fought from behind to tie the opposing team in the B bracket playoffs on March 26.

In the final end, I inadvertently set in motion what would eventually result in a tie (that’s the photo at the top of this post). The tie led to a sudden-death draw to the button that our skip, Joe, won.

In that final end, I was playing second on a three-person team (that means I threw the 4, 5 and 6 red stones out of eight). Thanks to the shooting of our lead, Andrew, we were sitting shot but there was a gap that someone could shoot to get closer to the button (as the team with the stone closest to the button scores).

My task was to put up a guard in that gap to prevent the opposing team (The Icemen) from taking advantage of the opening. My first couple attempts didn’t pan out.

My third and final shot also missed as a guard — it drew into the gap (or port, in curling lingo) and rested near the button. It was a nice shot that didn’t immediately hurt us, but it created an opening for the opposing yellow team (which had the advantage of throwing the final stone of the end).

The opposing vice skip (who shoots third out of four) threw a shot similar to mine and pushed my last rock out of the way.

From there, it was a back-and-forth effort between the two teams. Our skip, Joe, followed the same line and knocked the yellow stone out of the way. The yellow team skip delivered the same shot and pushed our red stone back slightly.

That led to a crucial moment in the end and the game — who has the shot? If it’s us on the red team, it would be prudent to put up a guard and end this bit of shooting practice. From my perspective as the vice skip, I thought it was close but the advantage was ours.

(As an aside, it didn’t make sense to try the draw shot again because our red stone was behind the tee line — it could’ve been used by the yellow team as a backstop, allowing them to sit fully on the center of the button and claim the win.)

Joe successfully put up a guard, clogging the port that we had all found success through. It forced the yellow team to make a difficult shot that they couldn’t convert. They would’ve basically had to run into two of their stones for a chance to push their stone closest to the button just a centimeter forward.

Here’s what team yellow faced:

In the last shot of the final end of the winter 2018 Monday league, the yellow team faced a difficult shot to try to get their stone closest to the button on March 26, 2018, at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

In the last shot of the final end of the winter 2018 Monday league, the yellow team faced a difficult shot to try to get their stone closest to the button on March 26, 2018, at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

The photo doesn’t show the red stone sitting in the outer green circle (called the 12-foot) at roughly the 10 o’clock position.

After each team has thrown their eight stones, it’s up to the vice skips to agree on who actually scored. If it’s not possible from visual observation, there’s a measuring device that can be used. It was the star of the Winter Olympics whenever it was used on TV and it came into play that night in March.

Unfortunately, there was a bit of mixup in the measurement. Because the stones were so close to each other, the measurer tried to measure the outside of the stones. That doesn’t work for many reasons, particularly because the sensor doesn’t bend in that direction.

Trying to sweep the measuring dial past our red stone simply pushed the rock out of the way slightly. We were given the opportunity to reset our stone, but I noted that there was really no way to do it in a way that was fair especially because we were trying to measure its original position and that was no longer possible.

With measuring out of the question, both teams concluded that it was easiest to declare that it was a tie and that no team scored that end (called a blank).

(Another aside: We were uncertain about the rules when it came to measurements and it led to a Reddit discussion on the matter. The curling rules do address the situation, which will be helpful moving forward. We didn’t know it at the time and I was happy both teams agreed to call it a tie.)

The tie set up the draw to the button, where each team’s skip throws one stone to try to get closest to the center of the house.

Joe made the shot and we won our playoff. It was an exhilarating end to a great night of curling. Even before the yellow team took their last shot in the final full end, it was exciting that we had to come back from being down 3-0 after the first end and stole a point in the fifth end to tie everything up heading into that crucial sixth end.

Here’s the box score:

Our match was for the B bracket championship which was set up for the teams in the middle of the pack in our league. We entered the playoffs seeded eighth and I was more than happy to emerge as the “best of the rest” of our league night.

The members of Team 20/20 — from the left, Joe, Andrew and Ryan — pose after receiving medals for winning the "B" bracket during the winter 2018 Monday curling league at the Utah Olympic Oval.

The members of Team 20/20 — from the left, Joe, Andrew and Ryan — pose after receiving medals for winning the “B” bracket during the winter 2018 Monday curling league at the Utah Olympic Oval.

This season, I’m on a changed up team. We started off with a win, but have since run into some trouble. Next time, I’ll recap how the year has started.

UCSD basketball outdraws some Division I schools

UCSD's Main Gym is seen in this composite photo taken in the 1990s. Most indoor intercollegiate activities now take place at the RIMAC Center.

UCSD’s Main Gym is seen in this composite photo taken in the 1990s. Most indoor intercollegiate activities now take place at the RIMAC Center.

UCSD’s average attendance is around 250 out of 5000 seats — trising on The Big West Boards

The UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program faces a key date this month, as the Big West Conference leadership is supposed to consider whether to invite UCSD into the conference (and thus determine whether the campus moves to NCAA Division I, per the outcome of last year’s student vote).

I’ve been paying more attention to the matter, including visiting a number of discussion boards centered around the Big West and other mid-major conferences. I spotted the above quote on one of the boards and wanted to respond because that information doesn’t match what I’ve seen. I’m also including some additional thoughts that have been on my mind.

UCSD men’s basketball average attendance has been several times higher than this figure in the past. It’s not going to compare with the top-flight Big West programs, but it’s better than the cited members.

Here’s the information from the NCAA on UCSD men’s basketball team’s average home attendance for the 2014-15 season*:

UCSD – men’s (D-II) — 11 games — 9,497 total attendance — 863 avg. per game

It beat the average NCAA Division II men’s basketball attendance ​of 710 per game in 2014. As a D-II program, UCSD also exceeded UC Riverside’s average attendance that year (762) and non-BWC Sacramento State’s (815). It also tied CSU Northridge that year in the category.

By comparison, UC Irvine’s average home attendance that year was 2,348 and UC Davis’ was 2,584. (Davis, Irvine, Northridge and Riverside are all in the Big West.)

Of course, UCSD’s figures reflect average home attendance over the entirety of the season (which was the standard that the original poster offered). Spirit Night attendance in 2015 was 3,881. If one wished to calculate the average WITHOUT the most popular game of the year, you get a per-game average of 562 — still twice the figure originally offered.


As an aside, UCSD women’s basketball average home attendance in 2014-15 (397) beat out UC Riverside (270) and UC Irvine (248). UC Davis had a respectable 1,049 while non-BWC San Diego State had a relatively woeful 604 (non-BWC University of San Diego also had 536).

I know a lot of attention is focused on the men’s basketball teams, but a single sport does not an athletic program make.

According to 2014 numbers (which may be the 2013-14 season, my notes are incomplete), UCSD men’s basketball had higher average attendance than 21 D-I schools (out of 345). The women’s team outdrew 31 D-I schools (out of 343).


Regarding the men’s basketball attendance figures, I did the initial research in part to show that moving to Division I isn’t a silver bullet for schools moving up. As a UCSD graduate watching UC Riverside move to D-I in the late 1990s, I thought that they made the move for the wrong reasons and their still-woeful basketball attendance may an indication that they may have missed the mark.

I’m still worried that UCSD students are seeking the move to D-I for the “wrong reasons” because merely moving up a division isn’t likely to deliver the supposed greater prestige of competition (no offense to BWC), higher alumni interest, boosted student spirit and increased relevance in a sports market that already includes two D-I schools and a MLB team. I’ve long backed an approach similar to UC Davis, which built up student and fan support years before moving to D-1.

At the same time, as any proud Triton will tell you, UCSD is NOT UC Riverside. Even as a D-II program, UCSD men’s basketball home attendance tops lower-tier BWC teams. Although it’s not a guarantee, UCSD would hopefully continue to top those numbers and grow as it moves into D-I.

Ultimately, I’m setting aside my personal reservations because UCSD students DID vote for the move and I pledged to back whatever the students decided (they’re paying for it, after all, and will reap the ultimate fruits of this endeavor).

With the figurative ball now in the conference’s court, I appreciate the discussions on this board and elsewhere. There seem to be a lot of factors at play, but I hope there’s a decision that works best for everyone.

Go Tritons (currently in the D-II Sweet 16) and Aggies (as they enter March Madness)! — Ryan


* — Why figures from 2014-15? Those were the ones available when I was researching the issue ahead of the UCSD students’ D-I vote last year.

The20: Fight on with mighty Triton spirit – Part I

As seen on Instagram, I debuted a new yellow UCSD T-shirt on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, as the UC San Diego Tritons took on the Brigham Young University Cougars in Provo.

As seen on Instagram, I debuted a new yellow UCSD T-shirt on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, as the UC San Diego Tritons took on the Brigham Young University Cougars in Provo.

I’ve been a pretty vocal opponent to the possibility of UC San Diego moving to Division I. Despite my past reservations about D-I (which seems highly likely at this point), it was a total blast to once more cheer on the UCSD Tritons in men’s volleyball tonight against Brigham Young University.

This was a match I had been looking forward to ever since I moved to Provo last May — men’s volleyball is the only Triton team that regularly competes against a team in Utah. When I was in Chico, UCSD and Chico State were in the same conference, so there were always a couple of opportunities every year to cheer for the blue and gold in sports like basketball, baseball, softball and women’s volleyball.

Although I hoped to be loudly cheering for the Tritons on Friday, I knew that there would be a lot more people rooting for the Cougars. Watching some past volleyball matches on BYUtv, I knew that the Smith Fieldhouse can be a loud atmosphere but I wanted UCSD to have a voice there as well. I also bought a new, bright yellow Triton T-shirt for the occasion. All of my previous shirts were shades of blue, which would probably blend in with the Cougar blue that was sure to fill the stands.

When it came to buying the tickets earlier this week, I was a bit at a loss — I didn’t know if there would be any Triton supporters in attendance and where they might sit (and the reserved seats weren’t necessarily cheap). The box office staff at the Marriott Center was friendly, but they didn’t know either. Eventually, I just settled for the $5 general admission ticket and decided to take my chances.

On game day, I donned my new shirt and made my way north to the BYU campus. Parking was super-easy as the expansive fieldhouse lot is available to the public after 4 p.m. or so.

The fieldhouse itself was a quirky older building, with a narrow indoor track ringing the court and seating area. I made my way past the clearly reserved seats to the opposite side of the court. I asked a man handing out programs if this where the general admission seats were. He said yes and commented that I was brave wearing that shirt inside the fieldhouse.

As I made my way into the arena, I saw blue, plastic hard-backed bucket seats. The aisle seats were all marked “reserved,” and I assumed that only _those_ seats were reserved. That was an erroneous assumption, but I wouldn’t find out about that until later.

I found a great seat about five or six rows up near center court (but not on the center line because it had the “reserved” sign on it). I picked the side that I knew the Tritons would be on and settled in. I noted that the playing area on the court was smaller than it looks on TV. I’ve attended dozens of volleyball games, so I’m used to the court dimensions but the difference in perspective was fascinating.

It was about 30 minutes before the start of the match, so I took a self-portrait to post online. I also dashed to the concessions stand for a couple of waters because I knew it was unlikely that I would be able to leave my seat once the match began (a prediction that generally proved correct). The crowd slowly trickled in. I looked about several times to see if there were any other Triton fans in attendance, but I wasn’t having much luck.

All too quickly, the countdown clock wound down and it was time for the match to begin. After singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” along with the crowd over a very loud recorded instrumental version of the song, it was game time.

To be continued…

From the vault: UCSD’s possible Division I move isn’t enough to bolster school spirit

Scaffolding is in place around the Sun God sculpture at UC San Diego at some point during my time there before 2001.

Scaffolding is in place around the Sun God sculpture at UC San Diego at some point during my time there before 2001.

Author’s note: I started writing this in the spring of 2012, the last time UC San Diego students voted on whether to move to NCAA Division I (it failed with 56.7 percent of students voting no). It’s unfinished, but I’m finally publishing it because students will again vote on D-I this spring. Aside from modifying the original headline (from “UCSD’s possible Division I move won’t bolster school spirit alone”), everything else is presented as-is from four years ago. I’ll definitely have more thoughts in the weeks to come.

UC San Diego’s possible move to NCAA Division I has been on my mind since the student vote started last week. The proposal has stirred deep concerns, but I sort of didn’t want to speak out about it. While I have strong spirit for UCSD, it’s not really my opinion that matters — it really boils down to the current students and what they want.

After doing some research and witnessing a relatively small crowd watch the women’s basketball team in the playoffs (at a tournament UCSD was hosting), I’ve concluded that D-I likely won’t accomplish what proponents say they want — an increase in the campus’ prominence, a bolstered campus life and a more involved alumni community. At least not alone.

Ultimately, having students each pay nearly $500 more per year for Division I seems pound foolish without a concerted effort to pursue complementary, pennywise solutions.

Campus prominence — This is a tempting lure. After all, at D-I, there’s always the possibility of the men’s or women’s basketball teams making it to March Madness. And for 21 other sports that struggle for the spotlight, there’s the ability to play slightly bigger rivals. And think of all the other Division I programs that you can name.

Unfortunately, campus prominence seems like a tease. There are 346 D-I schools. Name recognition gets sketchy after the 47th team in a basketball tournament or the two teams facing off in a 35th-tier football bowl game sponsored by a bail bondsman.

Other schools have made the argument that D-I would bolster their regional and national appearance. When I was going to school, UC Riverside students made that argument when voting to go to Division I in 1998.

Does the fact that UCR is now D-I really improve that campus’ reputation in your mind? The same argument could be made for UC Irvine and even UC Santa Barbara (outside of their basketball team, at times). These are schools known largely for things other than their athletic legacy.

Proponents also assert that UCSD has outgrown D-II after 12 short years, arguing that the school is too big for its conference, the California Collegiate Athletic Association, in both student population, academic prowess and athletic performance. I’m not too concerned about campus size or scholastic performance, but there’s still room to grow athletically.

Yes, UCSD excels in the conference, but it has earned three national team championships in Division II in 12 years, according to NCAA stats. Compare that with the 20 team titles UCSD won in Division III (where UCSD clearly exceeded average school size and dominated the division).

If UCSD goes to D-I, I predict its prominence will still languish on regional and national stages. Locally, UCSD would still be in third position — behind San Diego State University and University of San Diego. (USD is another example where a school’s D-I status is relatively unimportant — except for Jim Harbaugh for football and a rare March Madness basketball win.)

If UCSD were an athletic Goldilocks, Division III was obviously too small, Division I is likely too big, while Division II is still just right.

Improved campus life