Women's curling hopes to be young at Hearts

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

Say the word young in curling and you immediately get everyone's attention.

Young is good. Young is different. Young is fresh. More importantly, young is needed, especially in a sport often dominated by the same rinks.

That doesn't mean the same old guard aren't good for the sport. It's comforting to see some of the same people year in and year out. Fans love to see their favourites.

It just that bringing in new fans is sometimes difficult when there aren't new faces.

That's why the word young is so, well, attractive.

And there is a youth movement in women's curling -- sort of.

There's been a great deal said and written about the new breed of female curlers: young, aggressive players who have all the shots and play at a consistently competitive level.

The talk about the so-called youth movement took flight last year when Jennifer Jones and Jenn Hanna met in the Hearts final. No Colleen Jones, no Cathy King. Overlooked in curling's desire to find new faces and attract new fans is the fact that Jennifer Jones is 32 -- hardly old, but hardly fresh out of junior curling.

This year at the Hearts, there's a fresh face in Andrea Kelly, who skips the New Brunswick rink. Kelly is 20, as is second Jodie deSolla and lead Morgan Muise. Third Kristen MacDiarmid is 19. The rink's play has again sparked discussion about curling's youth movement.

On a national stage under some intense scrutiny, she's been terrific.

Despite the emphasis on the young, a trip down the list of rinks at this Hearts is like a trip down memory lane. Most of the rinks have been here before, several times.

This is why it's important for rinks like Kelly's to make it to the Hearts. It's important not only so they can gain experience and two years from now, as a 22-year-old have a great chance to win this event -- Colleen Jones won her first Heart in 1982 at the age of 22-- but also for the tournament itself, so that new, younger fans are attracted to the game.

A full-scale youth movement is still a few years down the road.

"It's nice to have a mix of both (youth and experience)," said King, 46, who is at her seventh Hearts and was a victim of the young New Brunswick rink 7-6 in yesterday's morning draw.

"They make a lot of shots," she said of the young rink. "Junior curlers nowadays play in women's leagues and against men's teams. They are better than when we were juniors. Back then, all we did was hit. Now they have all the finesse shots."

Kelly's age is the focus of attention every time she plays. In a tournament traditionally dominated by veterans, it's understandable why the focus is on youth. But while Kelly is young, she's competed against top teams and at top events.

"When we lost (to British Columbia), we didn't lose because we were young.

"We lost because we didn't play well," Kelly said.

What Kelly finds most difficult at this level is the strategy.

"It's a little hard because there's so much to look at. We're talking a lot of time to decide what to do," she said.

That's why the old guard won't go quickly or quietly. Nothing can replace the experience gained from years of playing at this level. There aren't many situations they haven't seen or been involved in.

But this is a sport where the youth movement is just around the corner. There will be more rinks like Kelly because more young players are competing at a high level.

Watch what Kelly learns over the next week.

It's a sign of things to come.


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