It has been an amazing year on the ice for Berwick curler Jennifer Smith.
Smith - who’s turns 16 next month, but has been curling for almost a decade - is mate and throws third stones for skip Mary Fay of Chester. The Fay rink has had an impressive season.
. In December, Team Fay won the provincial junior U-21 championship in Sackville. In January, Smith, Fay, second Karlee Burgess and lead Janique LeBlanc of Halifax earned bronze medals at the Canadian Juniors in Liverpool.
To cap things off, earlier this month, Smith and her teammates earned the right to represent Nova Scotia at the 2015 Canada Games by going undefeated to win the Canada Games trials in Halifax.
Smith has been curling since she was six.
“My dad and my older brother both curled, so I grew up at curling rinks,” she said.
When she and teammate Karlee Burgess - a former Berwick resident now living in Truro, were six years old - they were introduced to the sport by Karlee’s dad, Craig Burgess, who had been to the Brier. Karlee’s mom, Alyson, was also a competitive curler. That introduction sparked a keen interest in both girls and the rest, as they say, is history.
Passion for curling
“I like that it’s a ‘small team’ sport. I love the play, and the strategy involved. It’s exciting, especially at the level we are now,” Smith said. “I do get nervous at times.”
Smith’s position as the mate is second-in-command on the team.
“I like that position,” she said. “I don’t always like the pressure of throwing last rocks or calling the game, but I like being part of the decision-making, along with Mary.”
The roots of Team Fay began about four years ago.
“We were all at an U-15 funspiel in Chester. Andrew Atherton, who is now our coach, saw us play,” Smith recalled. “(Atherton) already knew Janique. When the team he was coaching at the time broke up, he approached us about maybe forming a team.”
Shortly after the four got together, Alyson Burgess pointed out they were the right age for the 2015 Canada Games, so that became a dream as well.
Team Fay has been playing an age group or two above their own ages for most of the time they have been together. For the past two years, they have competed in the U-21 division.
A winning combination
Smith says winning provincials for the first time was exciting, but nothing compared to competing at junior nationals in Liverpool.
“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “It was definitely a hometown crowd, and it was really cool to play in the arena setting.”
It was also “kind of cool to get on the podium at our first nationals. We beat the eventual champions (from Alberta) in the playoff round. That ended up being their only loss of the tournament – and now they’re the world champions, too,” she said.
As for the Canada Games, the NSCA has been working with potential teams for four years now. Last year, four girls’ teams and four boys’ teams qualified to move on to the next round. Two more teams on each side joined them late in 2013. This year, there was one round robin in January, and the finals were earlier this month.
“We felt pretty good going in, but we also knew we’d have to play our best because there were teams there we had played before and lost to,” Smith said.
“We knew what we had to do, and we were really focused. It was our biggest goal of the year, when we sat down (last summer) and talked about it.”
The 2015 Canada Games will be held next February in Prince George, B.C.
“I’ve never been west of Quebec,” Smith said. “I’m really excited.”
Smith doesn’t see an end in sight for Team Fay.
“Honestly, it’s working really well right now. I can’t see us changing anything at this point,” she said.
“Karlee, Mary and Janique are my best friends, on and off the ice. Travelling isn’t likely to be an issue, because we already travel a lot now.”
As for where she would like to take her curling career, she hopes they will stay together as a team and possibly compete at the Scotties someday.
“We’ve talked about that this year – just joking around, but not really – but it is something we’d like to do someday.”
Meanwhile, Team Fay is committed to being the best it can be.
“It’s been quite a year, but we’re not done yet,” Smith said. ”The success we’ve had has fuelled our desire for bigger and better things.”