By Martin Cleary
Tori Zemmelink and Jayden King have lots in common.
Not only are they student/athletes in curling at the University of Guelph, but also they are the respective 2023 Ontario U21 women’s and men’s curling champions for their community clubs. They will represent the province at the Canadian junior championships March 26 to April 2 in Rouyn-Noranda, Que.
And to add to their list of similarities, the respective Navan Curling Club and RCMP Curling Club rinks went undefeated at 6-0 and captured their provincial championships in dramatic fashion at the R.A. Centre for Curling Excellence on Sunday.
Zemmelink needed a measurement in the 10th and final end, which went in her favour, to lead her Ontario team to a 7-6 decision over Jenny Madden of the Rideau Curling Club.
After winning his semifinal 6-5 in an extra end over Jett Gazeley of the Cataraqui Golf and Country Club, King stole three in the 10th end for an 8-5 victory over Landan Rooney of Mississauga’s Dixie Curling Club in the men’s gold-medal final.
Measurements in curling are used to determine which of two opposing stones is the scoring rock. It’s definitely nerve-wracking as the officials line-up and move the instrument back and forth.
Zemmelink and her rink of third Paige Bown, second Kailee Delaney and lead Scotia Maltman certainly faced that stressful reality. Their game-ending measurement would determine if they won the game and the Ontario banner, which would earn them a trip to the Canadian championship.
Entering the eighth end, Zemmelink was holding a 6-2 lead, but Madden responded with three in the eighth and one in the ninth to deadlock the final at 6-6. Zemmelink held the hammer in the 10th end and it served her well.
Her first of two skip rocks drew close to Madden’s stone and it was difficult to tell which rink had the scoring rock. For her second stone, Zemmelink played it light and away from the stones in question.
“From my eyes, it looked closer than it was. The official measured it on our first rock and it didn’t touch the other rock,” said Zemmelink, who stood back with Maltman and Delaney, while Bown oversaw the critical measurement as vice-skip.
Once the official gave the nod to the Zemmelink stone for the single point, the celebration began for the first-year rink.
“My guess was it was about an inch (ahead of the Madden stone). It was close enough and hard to tell. It was nerve wracking,” she added.
As Bown represented her team at the official measurement, Zemmelink stood to the side with Maltman and Delaney squatted in prayerful positions. They held their collective breaths for a long time.
“When we saw the measurement … we were so excited,” Zemmelink said in a phone interview Wednesday from Guelph. “We shook hands with the other team and then had a group hug. There were tears of joy. We were so happy.
“It’s why we signed up as a team.”
Zemmelink’s previous rink split after the 2022 Ontario championships, partially because some curlers graduated as juniors. She formed a new rink, adding Bown since she had seen her play for many years and liked her style, knew Maltman since she had started curling and welcomed Delaney on Bown’s recommendation.
The curlers agreed to represent the Navan Curling Club as Bown and Delaney spoke highly about their club. Zemmelink previously curled at the Palmerston Curling Club.
“We thought we would do well,” Zemmelink added. “We had a pretty good chance. But we had to work hard.
“I think it was we wanted it. We worked hard all season. Provincials is what the whole season is about. We played well enough to do it.”
In the days leading to their seven-hour drive to Rouyn-Noranda next week for the Canadian championship, Zemmelink, Maltman and team alternate Emma Artichuk (second for the Rideau Curling Club rink of Emily Deschênes) will practice in Guelph, while Delaney, an Algonquin College student, and Bown, a University of Ottawa student, will train in Ottawa.
Zemmelink will compete in her first Curling Canada national junior championship, but she already understands what it’s like to play in a national environment. She was part of Team Ontario at the recent Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island and won the silver medal in mixed doubles with Kibo Mulima of Inverary.
In the Ontario men’s U21 final, defending Canadian junior champion Landan Rooney led 4-1 after four ends, but Jayden King rebounded to force a 4-4 tie after seven ends. After both teams traded single points in the next two ends, Rooney entered the 10th end with the hammer and a chance to return to the nationals. Rooney recently represented Canada at the 2023 world junior championships in Germany.
The King rink of third Jack Ragan, second Owen Henry and lead Jacob Clarke made eight quality shots in the final end and was looking to steal three for the provincial gold medal. Rooney tried a difficult run-back double for one with his final stone, but it didn’t materialize.
“We were over-the-moon excited,” King said in a phone interview Wednesday. “All the work we put in, all the time, the driving, the practices and the training paid off. Winning the U21 provincials doesn’t happen every day. We have an elite group of people.”
The Ontario U21 championship was the 12th curling competition this season for the King rink, which reached the playoffs in 11 events and posted three victories.
“We just honestly were a team,” added King about his rink’s provincial gold-medal success. “If someone didn’t curl well, others would pick up the slack. We had our eyes fixed on the goal and we tried to string our shots together. It was a race to six points.”
King said many curling matches are won with six points, but his undefeated team exceeded that stat by averaging 8.1 points a game in posting six wins.
King and his teammates practise in Ottawa or Guelph on weekends when they aren’t in a competition. Ragan and Clarke attend Carleton University, while Henry studies at Brock University, and King is at Guelph.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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