By Peter Ash
When it comes to practice, most sports teams train with each other or host the occasional special guest to give them some experience.
The same can’t be said of the Ryerson Rams curling club. Since their beginning, the team has taken it upon themselves to practice against a range of talent, regardless of age, experience or skill level.
“Training with all sorts of age groups could be beneficial for our group,” Rams head coach Perry Marshall said. “That’s why they sometimes play against people twice their age or double their experience.”
When Marshall started the club in 2015, he envisioned having a program that was stable and fairly successful. Knowing that there was a lot of talent around Ryerson, he wanted to make sure that his team got to see a diverse amount of talent from a large range of players.
Sometimes, they can find themselves up against people up to three times their age. To put that into perspective, five members of the Rams’ squad are entering their first year of university.
Even though they might be much older, most of these curlers have a great amount of experience and are in good shape.
Over the last five years, the team has played in a few different clubs, with the first being the Leaside Curling Club.
Even before the Rams curling club first hit the ice, fourth-year business management student and curler Alex Champ found himself at Leaside with a friend of his.
Although Champ was stoked the Ryerson club got into the rotation, he knew that it was more of a privilege than anything else.
”Some of these clubs aren’t as accepting to newcomers,” Champ added. “So knowing that we have clubs who are generous enough to let us into the club is a huge plus.”
Because the team is technically labeled as a “club” and not a varsity team at Ryerson, they have to organize all of their activities themselves.
Without varsity status, the team doesn’t receive full-funding from the school’s athletic department.
Recently, the team has tried to achieve varsity status through Ryerson’s athletic department. Although they haven’t received that label, they’ve been determined to get to that status one day.
“It’s a little disheartening to see,” said third-year Audrey Wallbank. “Because we definitely have some room to grow and I definitely think that the sport is growing.”
With the team now at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club, the program has made sure to build a steady relationship with all of these establishments, something that is incredibly important to both the team and its members.
“The people here have years and years and years of experience,” Wallbank added. “People here have been to 10-15 provincial tournaments….our relationship with the Toronto Curling Association is amazing, because it’s not only good for us, but for Ryerson.”
As time went on, it seemed as though joining clubs and playing against a wide selection of talent was starting to pay off. To this day, the club has gone up against some of the very best in the world, which include Olympic gold medalist Brad Jacobs, Olympic silver medalist Mike Harris and former World Junior champion Brendan Bottcher.
Although they didn’t have their regular teams with them, playing against curlers of their calibre gave some of the members a new perspective on the game. To some of the members, it’s a big deal. But some of the others look at it as more of a challenge, if anything.
“I’m used to curling on the Ontario circuit,” said Wallbank. “[So], I do think that there’s an element of pride when you’re able to beat someone like that.”
When they go up against these world-class curlers, the team’s ability to come together also plays a huge part in their confidence.
In one particular match, Marshall remembers the women’s team rallying together when they went up against the Carleton Ravens, who happened to have professional curler Karen Sagle.
“We went up against the undefeated Brock Badgers and defeated them,” Marshall said. “Then, we took on the Carleton Ravens… who had [Sagle].”
Sagle, a two-time women’s provincial champion, was looking to get the Ravens to their second OUA (Ontario University Athletics) championship final in three years. Unfortunately for her, Ryerson had other plans. They took a 5-4 victory in the OUA semi-final.
“A lot of the members on the team play together outside of school,” Marshall said. “So, they’re familiar with each other’s game.”
There’s also a sense of togetherness when the club works as a group. It’s almost like a big family, according to fourth-year curler Nicole Titkai.
“I feel like we really are a big family,” Titkai said. “And we just want to do what’s best for each other (and) support each other.”
Now, with the club having two full men’s and women’s teams, Marshall says that it’s only going to get better as time continues. Both teams have seen some success, with the men’s team winning a provincial silver medal in 2018 and the women’s squad winning same thing in 2017.
Although winning championships is something that is fairly important to the team, most of the members and Marshall have also agreed that building strong relationships amongst each other and with different clubs have helped them develop as a program.