Curling: Spicer duo ready for junior nationals
Josh Proehl and Andrew Bengston make curling look effortless. All the best curlers do. If the New Year's Bonspiel in Willmar showed fans and newcomers anything, though, it's that curling is far from effortless.
That makes what the two Spicer natives are doing so much more impressive as the duo ready to hit the ice at the U.S. National Junior Curling Championships in Detroit this weekend. The event, which was held in Willmar just two years ago, features the top 10 mens and womens teams from across the country looking for a chance at a trip to the World Junior Championships this March in Aberdeen, Scotland.
The pair arrived in Detroit Friday with their sights set on the global stage. In order to get there, they will have to work their way through the nine other teams starting Saturday and carrying on through the rest of the week. There are nine pool play games spread out until Thursday, followed by a day of tie-breaking matches Friday to pave the way for a four-team playoff Saturday. The winner then gets a chance to take on worldwide competition.
For a neutral fan just hoping for some West Central Minnesota success, the odds of a Spicer champion are doubled because Proehl and Bengston compete on different teams, each based out of St. Paul Curling Club. That means there's a 20 percent chance a winning team will feature a New London-Spicer High School student.
The competition, however, is stiff.
Last year's champions and runners-up at the World Junior Championships are back looking for a second-straight title. While most of the teams, including Bengston's and Proehl's, feature curlers from generally the same area, the returning champions come from across the country to create the USA Curling's Junior High Performance (HP) Team. The HP team amounts to an all-star team of some of the nation's best players. One might think that leads to an unfair advantage but Proehl and his team maintain their confidence heading into the tournament.
"It's certainly on the spectrum of possibilities that we go win the whole thing," Proehl said. "We could easily take 10th place or we could take first. Our goal as a team was to qualify, after that it's all up from here. We don't necessarily have expectations of winning every match but we're here to compete and have fun."
History indicates this tournament truly is up for grabs, despite the apparent tilted ice. Proehl's team, named Team Clasen after Jack Clasen, the team's skip, has defeated every team in the pool and lost to every team as well. The only exception comes with the HP team, who Team Clasen hasn't played before, though Proehl and Co. have won matches against the HP team's individuals before.
Team Clasen will get there shot early, though. They take on the HP team, known as Team Stopera after skip Andrew Stopera, in the event's first round at 3 p.m. Saturday. Bengston's team, known as Team Tuma for skip Kevin Tuma, will take on Team Moore at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Tougher than the competitors themselves, the biggest challenge for the local curlers will be the duration. Most events these teams play in tend to be over the course of a two- or three-day weekend. This tournament, however, will feature one or two games every day until Thursday, and could include more depending on the team's win-loss record and tie-breaking scenarios.
"It's going to be crazy," Proehl said. "It's a rigorous schedule and that's definitely a change but I'm optimistic that it's spread out enough. I'm a little worried about my body but we just need to rest and we should be okay."
Proehl, who acts as the team's lead, will do much more of the sweeping than some of the other positions and requires more physical effort, meaning playing up to 12 10-end games that take nearly three hours makes for a long tournament.
The key for the week will be rest which leads to plenty of off-ice time for these familiar foes.
"It's kind of fun knowing all of the other teams," Proehl said. "Even when we checked into the hotel, we ran into a coach we knew and sat down and had a long conversation. On the ice it's high stakes but once we got off the ice it's fun to hang out with these people and talk about our matches."
For Proehl and Bengston, having each other acts as almost a sense of validation.
"It makes it better than being on your own," Proehl said. "It's one of those things like, how do you talk to others about (the tournament)? Other people just hear me talk about a weird sport and I was away for a week, but it helps to have each other to talk about the tournament and sort of prove what it was."
Now in Detroit, Proehl and Bengston are ready to form those stories they'll tell family and friends in the next couple of weeks.