Team Scheidegger celebrate their win at the Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

Scheidegger surges from Grand Slam rookie to champion

January 11, 2017, 8:22 PM

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — Casey Scheidegger could only watch and wait during the last rock of the Meridian Canadian Open women’s championship game.

The 28-year-old from Lethbridge, Alta., was playing in her first elite-level Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event and her hurricane run through the Meridian Canadian Open now came down to one shot that was out of her control. Scheidegger had just delivered her own final stone to the outer rim of the four-foot circle and under the cover of a long guard. Her opponent, Silvana Tirinzoni, held the hammer for the decisive end with the score tied at four.

Tirinzoni, winner of the 2015 Tour Challenge title, looked to draw and hit the paint in the four-foot to edge out Scheidegger’s shot stone. As the Swiss skip slid out of the hack and released her rock, she knew right away something was wrong. It wasn’t going to make it. Sweepers Marlene Albrecht and Esther Neuenschwander sensed it was light right out of Tirinzoni’s hands too and went to work brushing furiously and hoping to drag it far enough. Albrecht and Neuenschwander were relentless, but there was little they could do as the rock ran out of fumes and stopped short of the target.

Scheidegger was practically speechless as her team — featuring third Cary-Anne McTaggart, second Jessie Scheidegger and lead Stephanie Enright — earned their first career Grand Slam championship in their debut.

“Amazing,” Scheidegger said. “We’re just so excited. I don’t have much more to say, it just feels awesome.”

“We’re a little bit shocked but that’s curling,” she added after having another moment to think. “Sometimes you get the breaks and we managed to do that. We played well all week so I can’t ask for anything more.”

Enright watched her brother Geoff Walker win his sixth Grand Slam title earlier in the day as Team Gushue was victorious in the Meridian Canadian Open men’s final over Team Edin. She too was at a loss for words describing how she felt capturing her first.

“It’s kind of surreal,” said Enright, who joined forces with the Scheidegger sisters and McTaggart last season. “I’m not really sure how to feel. I’m excited and in disbelief but it’s awesome.”

Scheidegger was already on pace for a breakout year winning three World Curling Tour titles before the end of October. Thanks to a qualification change to the Meridian Canadian Open this season — from just Order of Merit to a OOM and year-to-date split — rewarding teams like Scheidegger’s who were off to scorching hot starts. It’s crazy to think if that alteration hadn’t happened, Scheidegger wouldn’t have even been invited to the event.

“We’re lucky they did that,” said Scheidegger, who was ranked 18th on the OOM and ninth on the YTD at the qualification cutoff date. “It’s a great opportunity for teams like ourselves that have had really good years to be able to compete with the elite.”

Scheidegger lost a 5-4 decision to Edmonton’s Kelsey Rocque to start the Meridian Canadian Open dropping to the B event of the triple knockout preliminary round, a format where teams must win three games before they lose three in order to qualify for the playoffs. Her next game was against the defending champion and world No. 1 ranked Rachel Homan, who also lost a tight 5-4 battle with Jacqueline Harrison.

Homan scored four in the third end to take a 4-1 lead, however, that was the only chance the five-time Grand Slam champion struck the scoreboard. Scheidegger bounced right back with a three-count in the fourth to tie it and then stole her way to a 10-4 victory swiping three in the fifth, two in the sixth and one more in the seventh.

“You kind of have like nothing to lose,” Scheidegger said as the steals kept mounting against Homan. “It’s like well, we might as well go all out because they’re the best team in the world right now. Just play your best and see what can happen.”

Scheidegger sustained another one-point loss in her following game to Anna Hasselborg, 7-6, and slid into the sudden-death C side needing consecutive wins in order to qualify for the playoffs.

Scheidegger topped Boost National champion Kerri Einarson 7-4 and avenged the earlier loss to Rocque with a 9-4 victory in a rematch during the C qualifiers to clinch a playoff spot. That was the turning point of the event for Scheidegger as the team exceeded expectations and was now playing with house money.

“We thought if we played well we could get into playoffs,” Enright said. “We really wanted to make playoffs and were really hoping we wouldn’t go 0-3. But we knew if we played good we’d have a chance to make playoffs.”

“We wanted to qualify and just get into a playoff game and get some experience that way,” she added. “With provincials coming up we’d thought the more chances we had to get on TV and get into those high-pressure games, the better. That was definitely a goal for us coming in.”

Scheidegger drew Jennifer Jones for the quarterfinals. The six-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event winner Jones led 4-1 until Scheidegger knotted it up with three in the sixth. Things unravelled for Jones as she missed an opportunity to score two in the seven, settling for just a single, and flashed her first skip stone of the eighth end. Scheidegger capitalized on the big break to split the rings — forcing Jones to attempt an across-the-house double that didn’t work out — and gave her a wide-open draw to the eight-foot circle for two and the 6-5 win.

“At this level, to know we can compete with the top teams not only in Canada but in the world, it’s a big confidence boost for ourselves,” said Scheidegger, who went from being a “giant killer” to a giant in her own right during her meteoric rise.

That set up a semifinal match against provincial rival Val Sweeting of Edmonton and like the Homan game, thievery played a huge factor in putting it away early. Scheidegger didn’t hold the hammer until the sixth end, but was ahead 6-2 on the score sheet. The teams alternated singles in six and seven as Sweeting, a two-time Pinty’s GSOC champion, was unable to close the gap in the second half.

“Sweeting is always a good team and we always know it’s going to be a battle,” Enright said following the 7-3 win. “I’ve played them quite a bit over the years because I’ve played in Edmonton more than the girls have so we knew it was going to be a good game and we’d have to come out playing hard. We did and we got some breaks.”

It’s been an interesting past couple months for Tirinzoni with third Manuela Siegrist out due to a knee injury. Tirinzoni enlisted the assistance of Cathy Overton-Clapham, who had won two Grand Slam titles as a spare, to fill in during the Boost National in December. Tiirnzoni finished runner-up to Einarson and with Siegrist out indefinitely following knee surgery, she turned to Overton-Clapham once again for the Meridian Canadian Open.

Tirinzoni, entering the final on a five-game winning streak, opened with the hammer looking to blank the first, but hit Scheidegger’s counter on the nose for a single. A steal in the second gave Tirinzoni a 2-0 lead, but Scheidegger mirrored that in the next pair of ends — scoring one in the third when her own blank attempt failed and stealing a point in four — to tie it 2-2 at halftime.

Another steal in five gave Scheidegger the lead and Tirinzoni took two in the sixth to pull back ahead. Another lone point for Scheidegger in seven made it all-square again at 4-4 to set up the thrilling showdown in the eighth.

With a cool cash payout of $30,000 now in her pocket, Scheidegger shifts her attention to completing another first: win provincials and represent Alberta the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. It’s no easy feat competing in one of the deepest provinces in the country, but confidence and momentum are on her squad’s side and they’re hoping their skip maintains her fiery touch.

“There are other teams there who have had good seasons too aside from being in Grand Slams, like on the Alberta tour, so you always have to play good in Alberta,” Enright said. “You have to go in and know you have to play well to win so hopefully Casey stays hot there because we’re going to need that for sure to win there.”

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