Mixed rink returns to Muskie fold

Dan Falloon

For the first time since 2008, a trio of Muskie rinks will be hitting the ice in the quest for curling glory.
Fort High consistently has had both a boys’ and a girls’ rink, but Luke Esselink is skipping a mixed squad for the first time in three seasons.
The rink is rounded out by third Karleigh Wright, second Megan-Marie Paterson, and lead Ben Tysz.
In its first action of the year, the Esselink rink finished with an even 3-3 record at an exhibition tournament held Sunday and Monday at the Fort Frances Curling Club.
Coach Peg Keffer said being able to put the team together signals a bit of resurgence of curling at Fort High.
“We just had enough students that were eligible and were committed to coming out,” she noted.
“They wanted to give it a try, so we were able to throw together a mixed team with the two girls and two boys.
“If we don’t have enough to do a whole team of four, of all girls and all boys, this way it allows them the opportunity to play,” Keffer reasoned.
Icing a mixed rink also allows the Muskies to compete in all three divisions of the NorWOSSA qualifying tournament as each school only is allowed one rink per division.
Tirzah Keffer’s rink of third Samantha Mueller, second Taylor Hartlin, and lead Carlee Busch finished with a 3-1 mark at the exhibition tournament here while Isaac Keffer’s rink of third Cody Heyens, second Ian Grant, and lead Jordan Sokoliuk wrapped up play with a 2-3 record.
Coach Keffer was enthusiastic about the results as each team was able to get a handle on its competition and its game play going forward this season.
“It was good fun because it was exhibition,” she noted. “It was a chance to get out there and play the other teams that they will be playing [in] NorWOSSA.
“They get to spend some time together as a team, which is totally different than their practice time when they’re just practising skills.”
The tournament was especially helpful for the revived Muskie mixed team, which has one player new to high school competition while another is a rookie to the sport entirely.
It also allowed Esselink to get comfortable in his role as skip—a new position for him.
Keffer was happy with the mixed team’s performance, especially considering its inexperience.
“It was encouraging,” she enthused. “I think they felt really good about how they played, and I think they actually surprised themselves in how well they worked as a team because they were really cohesive.
“It was the shooting and sweeping that surprised them,” she added. “They were making most of their shots.”
Meanwhile, the Muskie girls’ team saw its first high school action since attending the all-Ontarios back in March.
Its lone loss was a tight game against Sioux Lookout, making for a fairly quick start to the season.
On the boys’ side, one player was trying to battle through an illness during the tournament, which contributed, in part, to the 2-3 mark.
But with about six weeks to get ready for the NorWOSSA qualifiers, Keffer is confident the rink will rebound in time.
“It takes time to get the kinks out, but that’s the beauty of exhibition,” she reasoned.
This year’s qualifiers will take place Jan. 30-31 in Kenora, with the NorWOSSA championships slated for Feb. 28-March 1 in Sioux Lookout.
Keffer concluded by thanking the curling club for adjusting some of its league schedules to allow the tournament to go ahead and give the players game time on the ice.