New among the competitors at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts this year were Dalhousie University student Karlee Burgess and Lauren Lenentine, a former Dal student now studying at the University of Manitoba.
After a lengthy hiatus from competition due to COVID-19, curling was back in February 2021 with the Scotties, the national women’s curling championships. The Scotties took place from Feb. 19 to 28 in a Calgary-based bubble.
Together with Scotties teammates Emily and Mackenzie Zacharias, Burgess and Lenentine won the World Junior Women’s Curling Championships in Russia last year. Burgess has represented Canada four times at the World Juniors and won three times. Lenentine, won twice in three tournaments, and together with Burgess won in 2018 and 2020. Between titles in 2019, they helped Dal win an Atlantic University Sport (AUS) championship.
This year’s Scotties was the team’s first major senior tournament together, representing Manitoba as one of the three wild card outfits. As one of the youngest teams in the field, Team Zacharias (with Mackenzie as the team’s skip) went in as underdogs.
“I know we kind of look like the underdogs because we are a lot younger. We are one of the youngest teams on the field, but I think we do belong here, and we got here based on our CTRS [Canadian Team Ranking System] ranking,” said Burgess on their underdog label, speaking to the Dalhousie Gazette during the tournament. Team Zacharias ranks 11th in Canada.
Bouncing back from the break
A more pressing concern for the team going into the tournament was the lack of preparation and competition over the last few months. After playing in more than 100 matches last season, the Scotties was their first major tournament this year.
“As a team, we haven’t played together since October, and Mackenzie and Emily hadn’t thrown [much] since October,” said Lenentine of the months leading up to the tournament.
Their task was not made easier on the opening night of the Scotties. Team Zacharias was drawn with reigning champions and eventual winners Team Canada, also from Manitoba. Team Zacharias would fall to Canada 7-3 on national television. Although a disappointing result, it was a respectable one and an undeniably extraordinary experience for the young team.
“They’re such a good team. It was so cool, to say our first game at the Scotties was against Team Canada. And, it was on TSN. You couldn’t have written it any better,” Lenentine said of the game.
Team Zacharias would go on to lose their next game to Alberta 7-5. Next, they put up a statement win against Yukon with a decisive 15-3 score.
This performance was followed by back-to-back close losses, falling to the Northwest Territories 6-5 and fellow wild card Team Peterson 5-4.
“The lack of playing kind of took a toll on us,” said Burgess of the team’s rough start to the tournament, the win against Yukon notwithstanding.
Only the beginning for Team Zacharias
Team Zacharias shook off some of their bad luck moving into the home stretch of pool play, winning two of its last three games. The team’s second win of the tournament came against Team Brothers of Nova Scotia. Trailing 4-2 after five ends, Team Zacharias was able to outscore Nova Scotia, Burgess and Lenentine’s former association, 4-1 in the second half of the match to secure the 6-5 win.
After falling 8-6 to eventual runner-up Ontario, Team Zacharias downed Northern Ontario 9-4. A tight game for the first eight ends, Team Zacharias was hanging onto a 5-4 lead. But four points in the ninth end to put the game away, bringing both teams’ Scotties to a close.
This win brought Team Zacharias’s record in its first Scotties to three wins and five losses, good enough for sixth place in group A. However, the team did not crack the top four that move onto the tournament’s championship round. Burgess said even with the premature exit from the Scotties, the team cranked out winning efforts all week.
“It’s been a battle of a week. There were so many close games that could have gone the other way. One shot here or there we may have liked to take back, but overall it’s been a good week,” Burgess said. “We came in here with high expectations and we are a little bit upset with the results, but I’m super excited to be here. It’s an amazing opportunity and the experience we take from this year will help us down the road.”
Expectations aside, this year’s Scotties has been an excellent opportunity to return to curling that everyone in the bubble was thankful for.
“It’s been a lot of fun being able to curl because this year has been very different with COVID and the lack of playing,” said Burgess. “This week at the Scotties, it’s been fun.”