HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
You can beat us once, but you can’t defeat us a second time.
Emma Acres and her RCMP Curling Club rink carried that attitude and stayed focused on their own game as they entered the playoff round at the recent Ontario U18 women’s curling championship in Kingston.
And it worked extremely well in all three matches, allowing Acres, the skip, third and sister Ava Acres, second Liana Flanagan and lead Mya Sharpe to emerge with their first provincial title and a berth in the Canadian U18 women’s curling championship.
During the round-robin portion of the eight-team Ontario U18 championship, the Acres rink finished with a 4-3 record to narrowly qualify for the sudden-death elimination round.
After losing to Charlotte Johnston of London 7-5, Katrina Frlan of the Huntley Curling Club 8-6 and Sydney Taylor of Burlington 8-3 in the preliminary round, Acres earned the opportunity to correct those round-robin errors by facing the top three teams in the playoffs, but in reverse order.
The match against Taylor was a Saturday night tiebreaker and Flanagan set the tone in the pre-match huddle: “I refuse to let this be our last game.”
Everyone understood and agreed with Flanagan’s direct message. Acres stormed to an 8-0 decision over Taylor in a conceded match that lasted only five ends.
“We definitely had a point to prove in that game that we deserved to still be there on Sunday,” Acres wrote in an email interview. “We started and stayed strong the whole game.”
Next up was the semifinal against the Frlan rink, an Ottawa team Acres has played many times in the past. Acres fell behind 2-0 after three ends and 5-2 after five ends in the eight-end game. But Acres owned the next two ends, counting four in the sixth for a 6-5 advantage and stealing three in the seventh to register a 9-5 victory. The Frlan rink conceded after seven ends.
“As we got closer to the end of the game, the pressure started playing a role and resulted in a few missed shots by the other team that we were able to capitalize on to win the game,” Acres continued.
The championship final against Johnston was a back-and-forth struggle with many impressive shots as each team used the hammer to score points. Johnston led 5-4 after five ends and Acres blanked the sixth and seventh ends to give her the hammer in the critical eighth end.
Acres scored a single point in the eighth to tie the match, but that left Johnston with the hammer in the extra end. After making her final shot in the ninth end, Acres stood and watched Johnston deliver her last stone.
“The game came down to an extra end, which was very scary for us because we didn’t have the hammer and had to hope for a miss against a very strong opponent,” Acres added. “After making a perfect draw behind a guard on my last shot, Team Johnston had a very tough soft weight hit that they missed by an inch.
“What I thought was cool about our playoff games was that those three teams were the ones we lost to in the round robin and we had to battle back, when it mattered against them.
“As our coach (Phil Mainville) says, we ‘slayed all of our dragons.’”
The Acres rink has achieved many second-, third- and fourth-place finishes over the past three seasons on the Ontario U18 Curling Tour, but had never won an event until the Ontario U18 championship. She said the provincial title had a lot to do with teamwork and support from Mainville, their parents, the RCMP Curling Club, their sponsors and fans.
“In order for your team to be successful, every shot from first to last is important and every member needs to play each of their roles to the best of their abilities every rock,” Acres wrote. “I was truly amazed by how everyone was giving 110 per cent from sweeping to throwing to communication.
“We picked each other up and rooted for each other every game. Our positivity and how much we all enjoy playing together was unmatched by any team there and shone through in our games as well.”
Acres, 18, and her sister/third Ava, 15, have played together since they started curling eight years ago. Flanagan, 17, joined the Acres rink two years ago and Sharpe, 15, is a first-year member.
“It feels like we have been curling together for years though; we are all very close,” she added. “A lot of people are surprised when they find out that the two sisters play skip and vice because they assume strategy discussions would be difficult with siblings.
“My sister and I knew that it wouldn’t be an issue for us since we are very close, and decided that a strong front end is what we needed to complete our team, which is exactly what we found with Liana and Mya.”
Sharpe is recognized for her work ethic and excellent sweeping, while Flanagan is filled with energy and positivity as well as being a top sweeper. Ava has become a good friend to Sharpe and Flanagan and is a natural when throwing under pressure and calling the line. Emma has had plenty of experience in pressure situations and creating strategy, as well as setting “the tone when it comes to the focus and attitude on the ice.”
Mainville has the young Acres team organized and game prepared, while alternate Aila Thompson keeps the team relaxed with her happy disposition. They’ll now bring that strong team dynamic into the Canadian U18s May 1-7 in Oakville, Ont.
“None of us have played on a national stage before, so we are super excited to be there and we obviously want to soak in the experience/opportunity as much as we can,” Emma Acres added. “I don’t think our goals will change much from the provincials – play as hard as we can, focus on our own game, and see where that takes us.
“I think if we can play like we have been, we will have a chance against anyone there.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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