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Women’s curling primer: upstart Rams relying on heart and hunger at U Sports championship

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By Michael Norton

In just its second season of operation, Ryerson’s curling program has already produced a team that has earned the right to play for a national title.

Following an outstanding playoff run that resulted in a silver-medal finish at the OUA championship in February, the Rams women’s curling team will be competing at the 2017 U Sports Curling Canada University Championships in Thunder Bay, Ont. from March 18-22.

But despite the prestige of qualifying for a national championship, there’s another esteemed honour that neither curling team has been deemed worthy of:

An invite to Ryerson’s end-of-year athletic banquet.

“You’re on a sports team, you almost expect to be allowed into the athletic banquet, right?” Nicole Titkai, the vice of the women’s team, said.

Ryerson’s end-of-year athletic banquet will be held for the 69th time this spring. It recognizes the achievements of members of the school’s CIS (now U Sports) and OUA teams, as designated in the student-athlete handbook. Teams with a “competitive club” designation, such as curling, aren’t invited. Titkai said it’s given the curling program a chip on its shoulder.

“I mean you’re an athlete for the school, you’re playing for the school, and then you’re told ‘oh, no, sorry, it’s just for the varsity athletes,’… we were all pretty annoyed,” she said.

The curling program may not have any athletic banquet invites to show for their efforts, but the department has taken notice. Airfare and hotel accommodation for the women’s team are being covered by the department, which is a huge investment into a program that is largely self-funded.

“We’re extremely thankful for the support the athletics department has given, and hopefully this is just the beginning,” Maggie Macintosh, the skip of the women’s team, said. Macintosh said she had to pay roughly $400, not including transportation costs, to play this season. “It’s really exciting obviously that (the department was) excited for us… however, there’s still a divide,” she said.

Both Titkai and Macintosh come into the national championships in fine form. Titkai was named a second-team All-Star at the OUA Championship in Oshawa, while in discussing her OUA performance, Macintosh said “I don’t think I’ve ever played so well.”

The entire Rams team will need to keep riding the momentum they built up in the second half of the OUA Championship, where they won their final three round robin games and got two upsets in the playoffs before narrowly dropping the final. The victors of that final, the Laurentian Voyageurs, also beat the Rams in the round robin at the OUA Championship and in both games displayed razor-sharp shot making. The University of Alberta Pandas, who have won the last two national university championships, are skipped by reigning Canadian junior champion Kristen Streifel and are once again favoured to go far in the tournament.

Entering the biggest tournament in the school’s curling history, worries about funding and recognition have to be pushed to the side

“I don’t spend a moment thinking about it,” head coach Perry Marshall said when asked about the curling program not getting an invite to athletic banquet. Marshall and Titkai said that just making the playoffs, as was the case at the OUA Championship, is the goal for the team, and to do that they need to demonstrate resilience.

“Very little gets them down, which is a good trait,” Marshall said of the women’s team. “What we’re going to do [playing a seven-game round-robin over four days] is no different than what we did this past month [at OUAs].”

“We just have to be prepared to do it in the same way, and if we get a record that can get us into the playoffs… then who knows what’s going to happen?” Marshall said.

Like Titkai and Macintosh, Marshall echoed an appreciation for the support the athletics department has provided the women’s team for the national championships. He said he understands and is on board with Ryerson’s club team model, and has faith that the curling program can continue to earn its keep.

“This is a stepping stone… but we have to continue to demonstrate as a program that we’re worth the investment,” Marshall said.

“I hope that we do, I believe that we will.”

Ryerson opens the tournament against St. Francis Xavier University at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 18. The Eyeopener will have all your coverage of the Rams throughout the tournament. 

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