Best Youth Curlers Aim for Eau Claire
curling club hosts icy sport’s Junior National Championships for the first time
The next generation of top American curling talent will slide into town when the Eau Claire Curling Club hosts the USA Curling Junior National Championships. The Jan. 12-18 tourney will feature eight women’s and eight men’s teams made up of the best curlers younger than 21 in the nation. The winning teams will represent the United States at the World Junior Curling Championships in Russia in February.
While the Eau Claire Curling Club (which is housed at the Eau Claire County Expo Center, 5530 Fairview Drive) has hosted national men’s and women’s events, it hasn’t hosted the Junior Nationals before, said club member Mike Peplinski. It drew the event thanks to the hard work of an organizing committee, as well as the club’s good facility and well-maintained sheet of ice, he said. While it’s an indoor sport, ice is a critical component of curling, which involves expertly sliding heavy granite stones more than 100 feet down the ice toward a bullseye-shaped target. Imagine a deceptively difficult combination of shuffleboard and bowling, but on ice.
Competitors will come from as far away as Alaska and Massachusetts and will include numerous young men and women from the Upper Midwest – the icy sport’s hotbed – including two UW-Eau Claire students, Anya Normandeau and Rebecca Rodgers. Peplinski, who will be coaching one of the men’s teams, is no stranger to the Junior Nationals himself: He reached the competition three times in the 1990s, and his team won the championship in 1994 and ’95.
“Competing in the nationals was really, really fun,” Peplinski said, “but when you won it and got to wear ‘U.S.A.’ on your back, that was when it (became clear) for me that this was really impressive.” Peplinski’s success at the Junior Nationals put him on a path toward representing the United States at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. In other words, the young men and women competing next month in Eau Claire may be headed to the sporty’s biggest stage in the not-too-distant future.
Curling as a whole has a reputation for good sportsmanship, and Peplinski praised the character of the junior competitors. “The competitors will compete, and sometimes they’ll be frustrated, but they’ll shake each other’s hands and mean it,” he said.
While something of an obscure sport nationally, curling has long been popular in Eau Claire. In addition to producing top curlers such as Peplinski, World Senior Championship competitor Geoff Goodland, and (more recently) 17-year-old Charlie Thompson – who will compete in a mixed team at the Youth Olympic Games in Switzerland next month – the Eau Claire Curling Club has nearly 300 members, making it one of the biggest in the state. In recent years, Peplinski noted, many new members have been drawn to the club via a half-season (roughly 10-week) league that competes on Sundays between late January and March. The more laid-back atmosphere of this league helps attract beginners to curling. Whether you’re a spectator or a potential competitor, when it’s cold outside in the Chippewa Valley, the curling ice awaits indoors.
If you’re interested in watching some of the action during the Junior Nationals, members of the public are invited to purchase tickets, which are good for the entire week: The cost is $50 for adults and $25 for children 12 and younger. Learn more online at 2020jrnationalscurling.com.