A provincial bronze medal in high school curling is a remarkable feat for any team. For four young women from Watson school, a community without a curling rink, it's a testament to drive, determination and the spirit of the players, parents, and coaches alike. The quartet captured the bronze in provincial competition this past weekend in Langham.
Skip Hailey Chegus, third Emery Sobchyshyn, second Alexa Sobchyshyn, and lead Georgia Strasser rolled through pre-district, district, and regional competitions undefeated to earn their berth to the provincial championships. They continued through competition at provincials, falling in pool play only to Regina’s Winston Knoll Collegiate. In the semi-finals, the Watson team fell to host Langham who went on to win the provincial title. In the bronze medal game, Watson bounced back to soundly defeat another small school with a strong curling pedigree, Fox Valley.
The curling journey for the Sobchyshyn sisters and Chegus began in their youth in Quill Lake with coaches like Doug Harcourt. The team continued in Watson under the leadership of coach and teacher Kal Lefebvre. The challenge presented in Watson was that the community curling club had ceased operation a number of years earlier. Coach Lefebvre gathered all interested curlers - boys, girls, and mixed teams - marshalled the players to his home club in Muenster.
“We had to figure out rides to get there over the years,” says Emery Sobchyshyn, referring to their frequent trips to Muenster. “I’ve grown to love Muenster rink because that’s where we’ve been from grade 6. We got to meet new people and we’ve had a few others join our practices as well. It’s been a great experience.”
The team appreciated the support of their adopted curling community, particularly ice maker Kyle Schuler who prepped ice for them and provided coaching support this year.
Along with the support, the key to their success was relentless playing and rock reps. The team went well beyond its high school curling schedule, explains Hailey Chegus.
“We’ve curled in quite a few different bonspiels stretching from Humboldt to Wadena. We’ve also been in a ton of leagues, youth leagues as well as adult leagues. I find that competing against adults especially has helped us because of their experience and knowledge of the game. All of the leagues have offered support to our little curling team, so it’s been nice.”
For the most part, the team has been together since grade 6 and has been steadily gaining skills and confidence throughout the members’ competitive years, explains Alexa Sobchyshyn who is in grade 9.
“When I got to grade 6, we had a junior girls team, with a different player. We’ve gotten to know each others’ quirks, what we’re good at and what we’re not good at.”
New to the team this year, and in fact to the sport, is lead Georgia Strasser, grade 11 student. The departure of a team member left a critical gap, and the Sobchyshyn sisters recruited their cousin, Strasser, who eagerly entered the fold.
“It’s my first year of curling. They said we need a player or we can’t have a girls team, so I said ‘I’ll play.’ Through the course of the season, Strasser picked up the skills and the nuances of a game she had never tried on her way to becoming a bronze medalist. Her teammates admit that all of them have seen a marked improvement in their skills since the commitment to their current foursome.
“We had a mixed team last year, and we made it to regionals,” says Chegus. “I feel like I’ve improved, especially this year - I stepped it up a lot. I felt I was getting stronger and more confident in my playing. I was able to practice my skills, figure out what I like to do, and figure out what I’m best at.”
The other remarkable feature of the “giant killer” nature of the team is that the high school curling world is not divided by school population. They competed against some of the largest high schools in the province. The girls agree there’s a “Cinderella” element to the accomplishment.
“Some people may say we’re not super excited about coming home with bronze and how we wish we were champions, but it’s super exciting that we, from this small town that probably no one has heard of, have our name out there now,” says the skip.”
Coach Kal Lefebvre echoes those sentiments.
“It actually feels like we won gold. I couldn’t feel any better - we are so pumped for winning bronze. It’s just super exciting.”
Lefebvre put his heart into coaching all of his students over the last few years, upgrading his own coaching skills with certification training that allows him to coach competitive teams through CurlSask and Curling Canada.
In the end, Georgia Strasser sums it up.
“A school of 140 kids in a community without a curling rink, and we somehow come out third … that feels awesome.”