NISKAYUNA — An elite field of 12 rinks, led by 2000 national champion skip Craig Brown of Madison, Wis., will descend on the Schenectady Curling Club this week to play down for two berths in next month’s U.S. Curling Championships in Hibbing, Minn.
The Schenectady qualifier is one of four being staged this week; others are in Bismarck, N.D.; Waupaca, Wis.; and Fairbanks, Alaska. The top two teams from Schenectady and Waupaca move on to the nationals, as well as the winning rinks at Fairbanks and Bismarck.
Other top finishers from the first round of qualifiers will be invited to the Challenge Round Jan. 24-27 in Eau Claire, Wis., where the final four spots will be awarded for the nationals, set for Feb. 16-23.
Rinks for the Schenectady qualifier, which begins Thursday at
3 p.m., have been seeded by the U.S. Curling Association and broken into two divisions of six for round-robin play, followed by tiebreakers, if needed. The division winners move on to the nationals, and three other top finishers will be invited to the Challenge Round.
Brown, 32, was the USCA Athlete of the Year in 2000, when he won the nationals and finished fourth in the world championships. He has five other top-three finishes in the nationals, and was fourth last winter in Utica. In addition to his men’s curling credentials, Brown has skipped rinks to two national mixed championships.
Brown comes from an accomplished curling family. His father, Steve, was a three-time national champion, twice a bronze medalist in the world championships and in recent years, has added a gold and a silver in the World Senior Championships. Craig’s sister, Erika, is a two-time U.S. Olympian who played on five national championship rinks, and is now vice skip for Patti Lank on a western New York-based rink that includes Schenectady’s Chrissy Haase as lead.
In preparation for this season’s nationals, Team Brown has had a busy season on the World Curling Tour, with six bonspiel appearances in the Midwest and Canada. Included in those preps were a victory in the Morgan Stanley Classic Nov. 20-Dec. 2 on his home ice in Madison, Wis., and runner-up finishes in the Duluth, Minn., Cashspiel Nov. 9-12, and the Eveleth, Minn., Cashspiel Dec. 14-16.
Curling with Brown are Rich Ruohonen of Brooklyn Park, Minn., John Dunlop of Milwaukee and Pete Annis of Owatonna, Minn.
Heading up the second division is skip Kent Beadle of Hudson, Wis. Team Beadle has also been competitive on the World Curling Tour, posting winning records in the Morgan Stanley and Eveleth events. Beadle and his Minnesota downrink have made several
appearances in the nationals.
Seeded third overall is skip Dean Gemmell, 40, of Short Hills, N.J., an Ontario native who curled in the Brier Canadian national championships in 1988.
Green Bay, Wis., has a young foursome led by junior star Willie Wiberg, 21, who has picked up Broomstones ace Alex Leichter as his two.
Skip Scott Edie, 51, of Middletown, Md., who has a Ph.D. in plant physiology, tested the Schenectady ice last month, finishing second to Schenectady’s Dean Wadland in the Gordon Grand National Championships. Edie also sports a second and third at the U.S. Mixed Championships the last two years.
Another Potomac Curling Club regular, Sean Murray, 26, has been a strong competitor in the Northeast, having won the Kayser, Francis Dykes and Cherry Blossom bonspiels in recent years.
The remaining entries are also from the Northeast, including several former GNCC junior stars. Rochester will be well represented by skips Brandon Corbett, Jason Brien and Bryan Wight (seeded fourth). Ardsley is sending rinks skipped by Michael Murphy and Peter Austin.
The Division A field will consist of Brown, Wight, Edie, Murphy, Murray and VanCuyck. The B Division will have Beadle, Gemmell, Wiberg, Austin, Brien and Corbett.
Practice rounds are set for Thursday at 9 a.m. Round-robin matches will be played Thursday at 3 and
8 p.m., and both Friday and Saturday at 9 a.m., 2 and 7 p.m. Tiebreakers, if needed, have been set for Sunday at 8 a.m., noon and 4 p.m.
Thursday, 3 p.m. — VanCuyck vs,. Brown, Wight vs. Murray, Gemmell vs. Brown, Corbett vs. Beadle.