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High school curling teams glide into season play

“Our curling club has been around for decades, so there’s a lot of tradition” said Paul Kane coach Michael Ng, who has led the school’s program since taking over the helm at the outset of the COVID pandemic.
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Sofia Jacotte, Mia Winklmeier, Amira Refaat, Keira Laansoo, and Amira Sharma (left to right), members of Paul Kane's curling team, at the Jasper Place Curling Club following league play in the Metro Edmonton High School Athletics curling league.

Bellerose, Paul Kane, St. Albert High, and Alexandre-Taché sweep in a new year of competition as games get underway in Edmonton’s Metro Athletics league.

All four of St. Albert’s high school curling programs have launched into another winter on the sheets, with league matchups taking place Wednesday afternoons at the Jasper Place Curling Club.

The first rocks of the season were thrown Nov. 2nd, kicking off the first segment of the league’s two-part schedule. Until the exam break, play consists of friendly exhibition games, where coaches are allowed a more active role on the ice to familiarize inexperienced players with the sport’s rules and strategies. Rosters are fluid in this stage, results do not determine playoff qualification, and schools are able to submit as many teams as they wish.

From mid-January through to the end of February, the more competitive Metro Championship games take place as teams vie for a shot at provincials. In this latter half of the season, coaches are kept on the sidelines, and schools are only allowed to enter a single team in the boys, girls, and mixed divisions.  

Though considerably smaller than other athletic programs, St. Albert’s high school curling teams are passionate and tight-knit.

“Our curling club has been around for decades, so there’s a lot of tradition” said Paul Kane coach Michael Ng, who has led the school’s program since taking over the helm at the outset of the COVID pandemic. “We have a group of grade twelve girls who did really well last year, winning silver at the Metro Championships. We’re excited to build on that success.”

For Paul Kane’s senior girls, success in the sport did not take long to find.

“Me and my friends decided to join the team last year. We just wanted to try it out and see what the game was like. It’s been a really fun opportunity to meet new people and try a new sport,” said Keira Lannsoo, now playing in her senior year. “It’s not something I would have tried if our school didn’t have a program.”

“There’s a lot of chemistry on our team,” added tenth-grade curler Ryan Fleury, “I think we’re going to do really well this year.”

Unlike football, basketball, soccer, and volleyball, sports that many students have some experience with through gym class or outside programs, a lot of the athletes on high school curling teams are trying their hand at the game for the first time — a dynamic that coaches say makes the endeavour more inclusive and accessible.

“The curling program at Bellerose is an inclusive program in the sense that everyone who expressed interest in being a part of our team was welcome,” said  Bellerose coach Lori Olson-Johns. “There are a few athletes this season that have experience, but for the majority of the students, this is their first curling season.

For Olson-Johns, the novelty is a large part of the draw.

“I love exposing students to sports that may not be traditional in the sense of what you may experience in a traditional physical education environment. These athletes have been keen to learn, and they always show up with a positive attitude towards the sport, their teammates, and their competitors," Olson-Johns said. 

"I am thrilled to be exposing these athletes to curling, and hopefully, they will be inspired to participate long after high school is finished in community opportunities. We are there to learn, enhance our skills and knowledge, and most importantly, to have fun."

And while spirit and sportsmanship are often central in the minds of St. Albert’s high school curlers and coaches, the community’s legacy of producing top-tier athletes is difficult to understate, with locals routinely going on to compete at the highest levels of the game. Marc Kennedy — 2010 Olympic gold medallist, three-time Brier winner, and St. Albert native — is perhaps the best example of this special connection to the cherished winter pastime.

Teams that qualify in the 2023 Metro Championships will be invited to participate in the provincial finals, slated to take place the first weekend of March.

The complete season schedule, results, and standings can be found on the Metro Edmonton High School Athletics website. Members of the public are encouraged to show their support at future matchups; admission is free of charge.