WILLMAR -- Lyle Sieg is no stranger to this part of the country. “If you’re going to curl, you’ve got to go where the curling is and that means North Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota.”
Sieg is the skip, that is, captain, of Team Washington, which will be competing in the curling tournament this weekend in Willmar. Sieg is a civil engineer in his day job living in Tacoma but will be flying into Minneapolis today from Phoenix where he has been attending a conference.
The rest of the four-person team will take a red-eye flight from Seattle, arriving Saturday morning, and then high-tail it to Willmar for the 4 p.m. opening ceremony of the 2013 USA Mixed National Curling Championships.
There are 10 teams competing over eight days for the national mixed title on the ice at the Willmar Civic Center. Each team is comprised of two male and two female athletes.
The round robin action begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and continues each day through Thursday, with the semifinals on March 22 and championship on March 23. See the schedule here. Admission is free each day.
Sieg, 53, has curled at various levels of competitive fervor for 38 years. Earlier this curling season, which is typically late September to early April, he competed in events at Eveleth and Duluth.
He is a returning medalist from the second-place team a year ago when the Nationals were held at Portage, Wis. Then he was skip of Team California that placed second to Team Washington.
He and his wife recently moved to Washington where he is executive vice president of safety for Harris Rebar, a large reinforcing steel contractor. Sieg has worked on large concrete bridges and other structures during his 25-year professional career.
This year in regional qualifying, his rink, or team, finished the runner-up to the Brady Clark rink, a team that won its fourth straight national mixed title in 2012 and ninth in 11 years. This time Clark decided to drop out and his team declined to attend nationals when the substitute player policy did not work out.
That opened the door for Sieg’s team to attend the Willmar event.
“We’re happy to fill in for the state champs,” Sieg said Wednesday evening in a telephone interview. “Brady won the men’s nationals earlier in Green Bay and now he plans to take a week off to compete at the Worlds,” explained Sieg. “He just didn’t feel he could afford to take another week away from work.”
A hockey player like every boy growing up in Canada (north of Vancouver), Sieg quickly figured out his future wasn’t in the National Hockey League. Curling proved the answer to his competitive urge. At age 21, he won the province championship and advanced to the Canadian Men’s Nationals.
“I thought, ‘This is great. I’ll be doing this a lot.’ I never got back; it’s so tough to win a province championship.”
He didn’t compete hard every year but in 1997 when he took an engineering position in San Francisco, he joined the cities’ small curling club of about 20 members. They got rink time early on Sunday mornings.
When he left last year, there were 200 members with three rinks available with evening time slots.
He said he and his wife moved back to Washington recently, largely “for family reasons.”
The rest of the Washington runners-up squad has been curling from five to 10 years, Sieg said. “They’ve been driven the past few years to qualify for national events. My moving to the area was just a fortunate alignment of like minds.”
Sieg isn’t the only returning medalist. Andy Jukich of Duluth, the skip of the top-seeded Minnesota team, won bronze in 2012. Connecticut’s Derek Surka, a past bronze medalist, is seeded No. 2 in the round-robin with Sieg’s Washington rink No. 3.
“There’s additional excitement because we’re playing in an arena with fans close by (cheering is encouraged),” the Washington skip said. “With Brady gone, all the teams will be extra inspired with perhaps six teams in the running for the four playoff spots. "