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Team Osbakken poses at the opening ceremony of the USA Junior National Championships in Seattle, Wash. Rick Osbakken of Two Harbors is the coach and his daughter, Courtney (second from left) is the skip for the team. Fayth Yecoshenko, Emma Bromenschenkel, Rebecca Miles and Alexis Lanigan make up the rest of the team. Photo by Neil Enns / Dane Creek Photography.

Team Osbakken brings TH curling to nationals

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A wall in the Two Harbors Curling Club holds the names of all the the club's most successful members that have gone on to win a variety of championships.

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Courtney Osbakken has always dreamed of having her name on that board, continuing a family tradition – both of her grandparents and two of her uncles have their names immortalized as junior state champions.

“First goal accomplished,” Osbakken said on Tuesday, speaking from the junior national championships in Seattle, Wash. She and her teammates are competing at nationals after winning the state junior championship in December, earning their spot on the champion’s wall. “Now, I’m aiming higher.”

Curling, which originated in Scotland, is a centuries-old sport played on ice. It pits two teams of four against each other, each trying to slide large stones down a narrow rink toward a target. The rocks closest to the center of the target earn the most points. The sport is similar to bocce or petanque, both played on turf, but it’s often called chess on ice because it’s largely a strategy game.

Osbakken is joined in Seattle by her teammates Fayth Yecoshenko, Emma Bromenschenkel, Rebecca Miles and alternate Alexis Lanigan (the commentators in Seattle chided the team Monday night for having the most difficult lineup of last names in the competition). They are accompanied by Courtney’s dad and the team’s coach, Rick Osbakken. At press time, they had played seven of nine games and their record was 1-7 Thursday morning.

Wednesday morning, the girls were planning a well-deserved break and getting pedicures before their afternoon match. It was the only day of the week in which they had just one game – generally, they’ve been playing two, for a total of five hours per day on the ice.

“What people don’t realize is how much they really did to get here,” Rick told the News-Chronicle.

National success in curling hasn’t come easy. The girls, who have played together for three years, attended two camps last year. They compete at curling tournaments, also known as bonspiels, nearly every weekend during the season, play in leagues twice a week as a team and practice once a week. When they have a school holiday or a free weekend, they’re at the curling club.

“You have to give up a lot of your weekends and time,” Courtney said, “but it’s definitely worth it.”

Courtney, 18, has been curling since she was 10. She’s currently a freshman at the University of Minnesota- Duluth. The rest of the girls on her team are in high school. It took them three attempts to finally win the junior state championship and advance to nationals.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Courtney said. “At first, I thought we would be blown out of the water because it’s the top teams in the country.”

Sunday they played their first games against two of the tournament’s toughest squads – Duluth’s Team Christensen and Team Anderson from Broomall, Pa. Though they lost both matches, they kept the scores relatively low and played better than they expected. The next two games were much closer, with the girls losing in the final shots.

“They’re only one rock away from a 2-2 record,” Rick Osbakken said Tuesday.

There’s rarely a gloating winner or a sore loser, though. Curling has always been known for its sportsmanship, evidenced by the girls’ new-found friendship with a team from Mankato, Minn. The girls clicked, even though they are competing with each other for the grand prize — a trip to the world competition in Switzerland.

“Even out here in this much competition, it’s a lot of camaraderie,” Rick said.

And out on the ice, a well-played rock is a well-played rock, no matter which team you’re rooting for.

“Courtney got a standing ovation in the last end on her last shot,” Rick said of Monday’s match. “She made one of the hardest shots in the game and the place just erupted.”

Rick said the stands have been full for almost every match, including many Team Osbakken supporters. Courtney’s uncle drove 10 hours from California; other family members traveled down from Vancouver, B.C., to watch the girls play.

Rick is relishing the chance to finally be at the junior nationals. He attended the junior state championships a few times in the 1980s, but never advanced to the big leagues.

“We never did make it to nationals, so this is really a treat,” Rick said. “It’s more exciting when you have your own flesh and blood doing it.”

As Courtney was competing in the first games in Seattle last Sunday, the Two Harbors Curling Club was full to bursting with teams honoring her grandpa at the Jim Osbakken Memorial Bonspiel. For the Osbakkens, curling is more than just a game — it’s a strong family tradition that has been carried down through the generations, long past Jim, who founded the first curling club in Two Harbors.

“I can guarantee the generations will hold onto it,” Rick said.

The girls have a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/teamosbakken. Find out more about curling in Two Harbors at www.twoharborscurling.com. The club will be hosting the 2014 Club National Championship Feb. 15-22.

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