Leyden’s Rebecca Rodgers wins USA Curling Junior Nationals gold medal

  • Leyden’s Rebecca Rodgers shows off the trophy with parents John and Michelle after winning the USA Curling Junior National Championship in Eau Claire, Wis. on Saturday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Leyden’s Rebecca Rodgers, far left, shows off her new hardware with teammates Susan Dudt, Sydney Mullaney and Delaney Strouse following the gold medal match of the USA Curling Junior National Championship in Eau Claire, Wis. on Saturday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/22/2020 7:38:03 PM
Modified: 1/22/2020 10:53:35 PM

For the first time in her curling career, Rebecca Rodgers is a national champion.

The 19-year-old Leyden resident and her teammates outlasted the competition at the USA Curling Junior National Championships, taking home gold in the tournament, which crowns the best under-21 team in the country, on Saturday in Eau Claire, Wis.

“Working my up through juniors, to finally get gold, that’s what I’ve been working for for so long,” Rodgers said. “To be able to achieve that goal is surreal.”

After back-to-back bronze medals in 2018 and 2019, Rodgers and Team Strouse (Delaney Strouse, Sydney Mullaney and Susan Dudt) won a wild match over Team Farrell, 9-8 in an extra end, to claim gold.

It was a battle between USA Curling’s two Junior High Performance teams, and the showdown didn’t disappoint. Rodgers and her teammates trailed 4-1 after four ends, rallied to take an 8-7 lead late, only to watch as Team Farrell stole a point to force one more end. In the 11th end, Strouse drew to the four-foot circle, with Rodgers helping sweep her side to gold.

“It was definitely a roller coaster,” recalled Rodgers of the final. “(The four-foot) is kind of the expected shot for the skip to win the game. It was a very high-pressure shot. She was able to do it, and as a sweeper, I wanted to do everything to make sure that rock gets there. I’ve swept this shot hundreds of times, so it’s just a matter of staying focused and doing it.”

The shot sealed the title for the quartet, as Team Strouse finished the tournament 7-2 overall.

“It was a crazy, incredible feeling,” Rodgers said of the title. “Going into the extra end of the final in a championship match, your heart races a little bit. It was definitely a different experience than I’m used to. I’ve only played in one other championship game at the U18 level, but never at the U21 level.”

The week-long tournament saw Rodgers & Co. get off to a strong start during round-robin play. The squad went 2-0 on the first day, but eventually took a pair of losses later in the week and sat at 3-2. They rebounded, winning their final two matches to qualify for one of the three playoff spots as the No. 2 seed. First came a 6-3 win over Team Jones in the semifinals, setting up the title match with Team Farrell.

“I think we had a very good week,” Rodgers said. “We definitely chose a good time to peak. Peaking at nationals is always the goal. We played better overall than we had been, I think, which is certainly helpful.”

While the gold medal came in exciting fashion during an extra end, the sport of curling is rooted in good sportsmanship, meaning the celebration had to wait for just a few moments.

“Afterward, you always shake hands with your opponent. It’s kind of a tough thing because you’re so overjoyed but you know the other team just lost a tough game,” Rodgers explained. “It’s bittersweet to do that but afterward, we got to celebrate. There was a big group hug, some tears involved. Definitely tears of joy, though.”

With the victory, Team Strouse earned a discretionary selection to the USA Curling Women’s National Championship, set for Feb. 8-16 in Spokane, Wash. It’ll be the third year in a row that Rodgers will participate in the tournament, as she finished sixth last year and fifth in 2018.

“It’s nice that our season isn’t ending in January,” she said of next month’s tournament. “We’re familiar with some of the competition there. I think our skills and ability definitely match up and we can do well there.”

Having begun curling following the 2010 Winter Olympics, Rodgers’ path to her first Junior National Championship has been quite a ride. While the goals and expectations only go up from here, winning the tournament is certainly vindication for a rising star in the sport she loves.

“It makes me look forward to the future even more,” Rodgers said. “I still have one more year left in juniors, then there’s so much more to do and so much more to achieve. But it’s reassuring when you get that feeling because this is what I love to do and what I’m passionate about.”

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