Penn State’s Curling Club Heads To Nationals
During the 2018 Winter Olympics in Beijing, one group of Penn State students became fascinated with curling. Though they had no experience with the sport, they decided to learn how to play and soon formed the Curling Club at Penn State.
Compared to other organizations on campus, the Curling Club is quite young. By looking at the group’s membership, though, you’d guess it had been around for decades. The club boasts more than 100 members this year, making Penn State home to the largest college curling club in the United States.
The majority of members make up what the club calls its league team. Every Sunday night, the team heads down to the community rink at Pegula Ice Arena for an evening of casual curling. Members are split up into teams to their way through a bracket. At the end of the year, the best team even receives a trophy.
Additionally, the club also hosts Learn-to-Curl events several times a semester. These are open to all Penn State students, even if they have no previous curling experience. The club provides all equipment and charges an entry fee of $10.
Approximately 20 members make up the club’s competitive team. The USA Curling College Tour travels all across the midwest and northeast to keep track of point-earning bonspiels — the technical name for a curling competition. USA Curling also facilitates head-to-head play between schools through which points are also up for grabs.
At the end of the season, point totals are calculated, and the 16 colleges with the highest point totals are invited to the USA Curling College Championship. In 2020, Penn State’s club ranked seventh out of the top 16 teams and was prepared to compete on the national stage. The day before the team was set to fly out, the COVID-19 pandemic took over the country and began to shut down everyday life. As a result, the college championship never occurred, and Penn State’s crew was unable to show off its skills.
After COVID-19 affected the 2021 season as well, the club had plenty of time to prepare and make a comeback. This year, the Curling Club is seeded 15th out of the top 16 teams and will finally make its first trip to the championship.
Current members of the team said that securing the high seed in 2020 was due to a stroke of genius. Even if you don’t win, points are awarded to teams who show up and play. Therefore, due to the sheer number of members in the club, Penn State would send multiple teams and accrue lots of points regardless of the outcome.
This resulted in the USA Curling College Tour implementing a rule that each school may only send one team to a curling competition. According to members of the team, it is referred to across various colleges as the “Penn State rule.”
Taking the rule change into consideration, the current team, led by President Sam Futch, is incredibly proud to have reached nationals based on skill alone. Not only is the club only four years old, but each member of the nationals-bound team learned everything they know about curling from their time at Penn State.
“It’s huge [to be going to the championship],” coach and Vice President Harrison Cantor said. “It really does feel like a significant accomplishment. Two years ago, we got invited to nationals because we were a big team. This year, it feels like we earned our way and put in the work.”
This feat is even more impressive when realizing that the travel team practices on the ice only once a week. Because it’s not an official club sport yet, the club has access to ice in Pegula.
To help make up for this, the competitive team has strategy meetings once a week. In these sessions, various scenarios that could occur in a match are laid out with an image of where the stones sit on the ice. Teammates discuss what the best course of action would be to create the most favorable outcome in the game.
As each team is allotted a limited amount of “thinking time”, similar to chess, the team needs to make quick but beneficial decisions before throwing a stone. These weekly meetings make those decisions a little bit easier.
“There is a very mental and strategic aspect of curling,” Cantor said.
Penn State’s club is obviously excited and grateful to head to North Dakota this weekend. However, after speaking with its nationals-bound team, it is clear that even if members weren’t, they’d still be having the time of their lives just doing what they love.
“All these other college curling clubs are about the travel and that’s all they do. For us, we travel, but our big priority is just to grow the sport and let everybody try it out,” said Futch, the club’s president. “All we want is to expand the sport with our club, and that includes beyond Penn State. We just want more people to play.”
The national championship roster is comprised of Futch (’23), Treasurer Jimmy Wendolek (’22), League Director Jack Balzano (’22), and Matt Anderson (’23), as well as two alternates.
The 2022 USA Curling College Championship will be held from March 11 to 13 in Fargo, North Dakota. Penn State is scheduled to have games against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Harvard, and North Dakota State across the weekend. The club will share livestream information on its social media as it becomes available.
The Curling Club at Penn State holds league signups at the beginning of every semester in addition to several Learn-to-Curl events throughout the year. To stay up-to-date with the club and its events, follow along on Instagram and Twitter at @curlingpsu or on Facebook.
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