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Coyotes Curling Club Hosts First National Championship
The final shot in men’s curling at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was met with ecstatic cheers when Norway took the gold.
It was not just an important moment for Norway, but also for the sport. That year marked the start of the regular inclusion of curling in the Winter Olympics.
The sport slid into new places, including Arizona. Now, for the first time, the U.S. Mixed Nationals Curling Championships are being held in the state.
“Curling being a cold sport, there’s not much visibility here in Arizona. So when people saw it at the Olympics their interest was piqued,” said curler Carol Ann Naso.
Interest was piqued so much so, that Naso and others founded the Coyotes Curling Club in Phoenix right after the 2002 Olympics. They had their first meeting at an ice skating rink.
“I’m told that the manager thought it would be a success if we had 30 people come out,” Naso said. “There were 160 of us that showed up to learn to curl that night.”
A 10-year run at the rink ended a couple years ago when the club decided to build a place of their own, in an old Tempe warehouse. Kelly Stephens has been a club member for six years and said getting their own ice was a big deal.
“When you’re playing on ice that people have just ice skated and played hockey on, you’ve got grooves in it from the ice skates. You never know what the shot is going to do. It was just so wonderful to get dedicated ice, which is just for curling,” Stephens said.
The new place made way for sweeping changes in the club. It holds league events six nights a week now. Naso said membership is still growing, so is their presence at curling championships. This week, the club is hosting the U.S. Mixed Nationals Curling Championships, their first brush with the big leagues.
“There are 10 regions in the United States Curling Association, so one mixed team representing each of those regions is playing down for the gold medal here,” Naso said.
The winning team will go to the World Mixed Curling Championship in Kazan, Russia. They’re bringing the heat this week across all four curling lanes in the rink. Teams take turns sweeping a 44-pound stone that curls across the ice. You win a match, called a draw, by getting closest to the “button,” or the target the team needs to aim for.
It’s not as fast and flashy as other ice events, but the glacial pace creates palpable tension among the crowd. Everyone is frozen, watching a stone make its way across the ice. Then, applause erupts.
John Lilla is playing for Minnesota in the championship this week. He has traveled a lot to curl - to places including Scotland, New Zealand and Canada, but never to Arizona.
“It’s nice being by the pool and relaxing in the good 90-degree weather and then coming to curl in the 40-degree weather,” Lilla said.
Despite growing interest, the Coyotes Curling Club is still the only dedicated curling club in Arizona. Some members come from Tucson and Flagstaff to play. Naso said they’re well-known in the curling world, but it’s not a known sport to people from the desert.
The next target they’re aiming for is starting a youth league.