The chase for a national title begins on Saturday afternoon at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena with the start of the 2016 USA Curling Nationals.
The event kicks off with the Opening Ceremony at 2:30 p.m., followed by three women’s matches at 4:30 p.m. and five men’s matches at 8:30 p.m.
Ten men’s teams and seven women’s team will hit the ice in the first championship held in the South – with John Shuster’s and Erika Brown’s rinks looking to defend their titles won last year.
The event continues throughout the week, culminating in the women’s championship on Friday at 7 p.m. and the men’s championship on Saturday at 6 p.m.
– Will Erika Brown’s team put the finishing touches on a stellar season? Ranked 19th in the world and the top ranked US women’s team entering the event, Brown won last year’s championship captaining a young team. This year, she returns with a veteran all-star group of Olympians (Allison Pottinger, Nicole Joraanstad, and Natalie Nicholson) that are focused on a trip to the world championships.
– Youth will be served. This year’s event showcases the future of women’s curling in the USA, with stars in the making Cory Christensen, Nina Roth, and Jamie Sinclair. Emily Anderson and Joyance Meechai are both looking for a breakthrough performance as well. Christensen’s team is looking to keep its hot streak in national competition going. They swept all 11 matches in the Junior Nationals en route to the title three weeks ago.
– Women’s teams world rankings: Erika Brown (19th), Jamie Sinclair (26th), Nina Roth (29th), Cory Christensen (43rd)
– John Shuster’s squad has been on a tear this season and looks to repeat as a champion. The two-time national champion won a year ago, with just one loss throughout the week. They look to become the first repeat champions since Pete Fenson’s squads in 2010 and 2011. Shuster is gunning for his sixth overall national title (skip in 2009 & 2015, Lead in 2003, 2005 & 2006).
– Welcome back Pete Fenson! After retiring following the 2014 season, Fenson served as a coach of the USA High Performance Program in 2015 – but returned to the ice this season and returns to the Nationals looking for his seventh title as a skip and his first since 2014 (he has eight total national titles, serving as vice skip on title teams in 1993 and 1994).
– Championship experience abounds on the men’s side with six of the skips having brought home the title in the last 15 years (Craig Brown, Fenson, Shuster, Heath McCormick, Todd Birr and Brady Clark).
– Young guns will also look to make a statement. The teams led by Hunter Clawson and Korey Dropkin got to Jacksonville by qualifying in the playdown event in early January, battling through a field of 20-plus teams in the triple-elimination event. Dropkin battled back from a loss in the first round of the Page playoff to Clawson, getting revenge in the title match, 7-5.
– Men’s team world rankings: John Shuster (14th), Craig Brown (24th), Pete Fenson (44th), Brady Clark (49th), Heath McCormick (77th), Todd Birr (90th).