Local junior curler headed for national stage

Jenna Enge is heading for the Canadian junior curling championships in Sault Ste. Marie next month after Northern Ontario won the provincial playdowns in Geraldton last weekend.
“It feels awesome,” Enge enthused. “I pretty much can’t describe it. It hasn’t hit me yet. I don’t know, it’s probably going to be once I get my jacket, so I don’t know.
“I guess I’ve reached my goal, and now I have to set higher ones,” she added. “I’m proud that I did that.”
Enge, who plays second on the Ashley Miharija rink (Fort William Curling Club), said just reaching the national stage is fulfilling a major goal.
She was confident heading into the provincials but to roll through the competition the way Team Miharija did (winning by a margin of at least seven points in four of their six games, including the final on Sunday) is more than anyone could have asked for.
“They were great, really,” coach Rick Lang said. “They’re a really strong team.
“We threw it together last year, and didn’t know Jenna too well and Jessica [Williams], the lead from southern Ontario, didn’t know that well, but they gelled together and they’re a good fit,” Lang added.
Enge said the tournament was theirs on Saturday afternoon after a narrow 8-7 victory over Vanessa Maloney from Sudbury’s Idylwylde club—the only one where they had a lead of less than four points.
“I think we had [the provincials] in the bank right after we won against the Vanessa Maloney [team], that was our closest game,” she noted.
“We were a little nervous after they pulled a three-ender on us and they tied the game, but we had to bear down and as our coach said it was all business after the fifth-end break.
“We had to just really get going and make all our shots. . . .
“We knew we would be able to win after that. It was like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders after that game,” Enge added.
The final wound up being all but an afterthought—a crushing 14-4 victory over Team Westlund (Port Arthur Curling Club).
“The weirdest thing is [when] the teams shook hands. My skip, my third, and my lead, they all started crying and I just never felt so happy in my life,” Enge said.
“I didn’t cry, but we all got around the ice and shook hands and the team had a big group hug.
“Our coach started crying and I guess it was kind of funny because I wasn’t the one who was very emotional, I was actually kind of in shock. . . .
“After the game, our coach was like, ‘You were so calm about this’ and I was like, ‘Well, I’m like a duck on the water. I’m calm on the surface and my legs are just going underneath!’”
Enge’s parents, Bill and Linda, made the trip to Geraldton. Her father said he couldn’t have seen his daughter more excited.
“She was happy, very, very happy. Just bouncing,” he recalled. “This is hopefully more than a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but she was just absolutely thrilled to get that far . . . she was just a big grin.”
Enge told her parents she couldn’t wait to break the news to Dave Bondett and Tom Fry, two of her coaches from her high school days in Fort Frances.
By the time her mom got Fry on the phone, however, he had followed the tournament online and already was preparing posters congratulating Enge to put up at the Fort Frances Curling Club.
Fry laughed, remembering the phone call.
“She started with us back when she got into Grade 9,” he noted. “She definitely was a dedicated curler and put every ounce of effort possible into improving her game.
“It’s pretty exciting news for us in Fort Frances,” he added. “It’s the first time we’ve ever got a female through to the national level.
“We pretty much see her as our own even though she’s curling out of Thunder Bay now.”
Fry didn’t take long to explain what sets Enge apart and helped her break onto the national level.
“I think primarily it’s her dedication to perfection. She works very, very hard at improving her game,” he stressed. “It’s time intensive, the more time they put in, the more time they spend throwing rocks and practising, the better they get.”
“She can throw big weight. She can hit the broom and run really well, so she has all the aspects of the game,” noted Lang. “And she’s a really solid kid . . . she’s a real good kid to work with. She takes a lot of input.”
As a 19-year-old, Enge still has another year in junior curling, but she’s hoping to make a splash on the national stage this year with members of the rink, including Miharija, in their last year of eligibility.
Still, she said all she can expect from herself and her team in Sault Ste. Marie is curl their best.
“My goal is to have a winning record, but whatever happens, happens,” Enge remarked. “We’re going to do our best and see what happens from there. I’d love to make the finals.
“It’s a whole new field for us, so we don’t really know what to expect.”
Enge has a life outside of curling—she is taking concurrent education at Lakehead University with dreams of teaching English to high school students some day.
But rocks and rinks are the focus of the immediate future, she said.
“I’m going to practice every day, I’m going to be throwing rocks every single day, and I didn’t really do that going into provincials,” she noted. “My homework situation might be put a little bit on the backburner, but I’m going to catch up with that afterwards.”
Enge laughed that she’s not nervous—yet.
“But as it gets closer, I’m sure I’m going to get a little more nervous. I’m just kind of excited.”
She’s anxious to hear some advice from Lang, who excelled at the Brier and on the world stage over his long curling career, but Lang said there’s not too much to say.
“Well, it’s a long week,” he noted. “They’re going to be playing against 12 other teams over a period of seven or eight days, so it’s quite a grind. It’s quite long, it’s demanding, and it can get quite stressful with the losses.
“I think the key thing, at any kind of sports competition, is we have prepared all year and certainly we have worked to maintain that skill level that’s necessary.
“Once you’ve done that, there’s not much else you can do.”
Lang likes the girls’ odds, going in as a very mature group at the junior level, as well as their consistency and raw skills.
The big factor with a rink that hasn’t played together for very long, he said, is that they play as a team under pressure. He said he’s been on some teams that have “imploded” through losses, and Team Miharija “really just have to be best friends.”
“Early in the fall, I thought there might be some room for some difficulties there, but they all have a love of the game, and that’s very important, and they all play together,” he said.
“Individuals and teams can have their ups and downs at a national level. . . .
“Jenna is the quieter one of the group, and it helps balance it because we’ve got some rambunctious ones on the team,” Lang added. “She’s a real prize gem, for sure, the skill level she brings along with a real positive attitude.”
Enge hoped that no matter how she does in Sault Ste. Marie, she can serve as an example to young curlers in Fort Frances as to how high they can aim.
“You can make it,” she stressed. “You just gotta practice every day, and look for opportunities to come to you, and take them. I got the phone call from my coach last year to try out and I’m so glad I said, ‘Yeah.’
“Don’t wait for the opportunity to come to you.”