Abby Marks is a Canadian champion.
The St. Albert curler celebrated the crowning achievement at the U21 nationals as the Alberta rink skipped by Selena Sturmay qualified for worlds by going undefeated in 11 games.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s kind of a new feeling for me,” Marks told the Gazette on Thursday. “I’m honoured to wear the Maple Leaf on my back and represent Canada.
“It’s so exciting. It hasn’t even really sunk in yet to be honest.”
Sunday’s 9-6 final in nine ends against Sarah Daniels of British Columbia was a surreal moment for the newly minted Team Canada lineup.
“It’s been a dream and a goal for all four of us for so long and for it to finally come true it was unbelievable and amazing,” said Marks, the third for Sturmay with Kate Goodhelpsen and Paige Papley as the front-end with the University of Alberta Pandas foursome based at the Saville Centre.
“We’ve been training for this for so long,” Marks said. “We’re extremely dedicated and we just work really hard.”
Team Sturmay is the 10th Canadian junior women’s champion from Alberta – Saskatchewan is tops with 11 titles – and the seventh to run the table with a perfect record. The others were Rachel Holman of Ontario (2010), Cathy Overton of Manitoba (1989), Cathy King of Edmonton (1978), Patricia Crimp of Saskatchewan (1975), Janet Crimp of Saskatchewan (1973) and Chris Pidzarko of Manitoba (1972).
“Definitely in the pool play we were really confident and focused on playing well, but as soon as we realized that we had actually had a chance to make it to the playoffs we started to get a little bit nervous, but as the games got a little closer we kept working well together as a team and it worked out for us,” Marks said. “The other teams were really strong and it was great competition, but it just came down to a few shots here and there that gave us the edge.”
The 11-0 run at the nine-day tournament in Prince Albert, Sask., included two one-point margin of victories in the championship pool, plus pool A results of 10-4 in eight ends against Kaitlyn Jones, the 2018 national and world champion from Nova Scotia, and 8-6 against B.C. and the final was decided with steals of one in three, two in fourth and one in fifth for a 5-1 lead at the halfway point.
Amanda-Dawn St. Laurent, coach for the Sturmay foursome, credits the perfect record to the team’s commitment to the cause.
“They were all on the same page about everything on and off the ice, and they were very open and honest with each other and that’s what helped them become very successful and have that run,” said St. Laurent (née Coderre), a St. Albert curling product turned competition coach with the U of A curling program.
Provincials in early January at Okotoks was arguably a tougher row to hoe than nationals for Team Sturmay. An 8-2 tiebreaker against Catherine Clifford of the Saville Centre determined the third and last playoff seed and in the semifinal Sturmay scored a deuce in 10 for the 8-7 win against Jessica Wytrychowski of Airdrie.
The final against Kayla Skrlik of Calgary “was a little bit interesting,” said St. Laurent, as Skrlik stole three in seven and Sturmay answered with one in eight before stealing deuces in nine and 10 for the 7-6 championship victory while finishing 7-3 in the tournament.
“There are so many good teams in Alberta and it almost feels like there is more pressure to just get out of Alberta, so it felt like a weight off our shoulders to get to that Canadian championship where there are teams we haven’t played before so we just had to play our game and hopefully do well,” Marks said.
St. Laurent agreed. “Alberta has some really great junior women’s and men’s curlers so it’s a pretty hard province to get out of and you kind of always know whoever comes out of Alberta is definitely going to do a really good job representing us," she said. "It was just patience and perseverance that really helped the girls get through provincials and they kind of kept that ball rolling through Canadians.”
Worlds start Feb. 16 for Team Canada at Liverpool, N.S.
“We’re going back to our normal training schedule and hopefully that will kind of bring us back down and that will help transfer over into worlds,” said Marks of the over-the-moon Canadian champions.
Goodhelpsen is going to her second worlds as the 2017 bronze medallist with Team Canada skip Kristin Streifel of the Saville Centre at Gangneung, South Korea, and St. Laurent was the coach.
St. Laurent also coached gold medallist Kelsey Rocque of the Saville Centre at worlds in 2014 at Flims, Switzerland, and 2015 at Tallinn, Estonia.
“They’re all very unique. They all have their special memories mostly because of the people that were a part of it,” said St. Laurent of the four Canada championship teams in six years she has coached. “This one is a little bit special. This is my last year of coaching at the U of A so it's kind of bittersweet to be finishing off where it all started because Liverpool, Nova Scotia, was where my first Canadians was in 2014.
“It’s exciting to be at home. You don’t have to worry about jet lag or worrying about making sure there is food there that we can eat. Those are the little things you have to think about when you do go overseas.”
As for the upcoming worlds, “I always say expect the unexpected, just be prepared for anything,” St. Laurent said. “It will be phenomenal. The people of Liverpool are amazing. We’ll be staying at White Point Beach, right on the water.
“The best advice is to soak up every moment and just be in the now.”
St. Laurent, 32, has the best seat in the house as coach.
“I love watching the athletes succeed. I was never fortunate enough to do what they did when I was their age so to be able to help them achieve their goals is very rewarding and a lot of fun to see the smiles on their faces at the end of the day,” said the Alberta skip at the 2004 U18 Optimist International Championships.
There are fewer nerves coaching than as a curler for St. Laurent.
“I can safely say I’ve never really been nervous when my girls are playing. I’m always quite confident in them,” said the St. Albert Catholic High School alumna.
Marks, 19, felt right at home on the Canadian curling stage after placing fifth at the inaugural U18 Optimist nationals in 2017 at Moncton, N.B., as the skip for Team Alberta with Papley, Jamie Scott and Brittany Brezinski.
“Definitely it was huge to have experience at one of these events. Having already played on arena ice it was a lot less scary and wearing provincial colours was a little bit less scary because I’ve done it before,” said the École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville graduate.
Marks’ resumé as a skip includes second-place finishes in 2017 at the St. Albert Ladies Bonspiel and the 54th annual Edmonton and area Tournament of Champions and last year at the U18 and U21 provincials and the U21 Battle of the Champions at the third annual Marc Kennedy Junior Classic.
Switching to the vice-skip position to work in tandem with Sturmay this season wasn’t a big deal for Marks.
“I took some time to learn that I wasn’t in control anymore, but I love sweeping so I loved getting to do that again and I loved getting to call line on the last shots,” said the second-year U of A nutrition and food science student.