A decision to travel to more events this season has paid immediate dividends for Yellowknife skip Kerry Galusha and her curling team.
Her side is ranked fourth in the country after reaching two finals -- winning one -- and earning a berth in the upcoming Pre-Trials qualifier for the main Olympic Trials. Not bad for a team that originally didn't have any September competitions on its calendar.
"We've never been at this level before so it's pretty exciting, especially to have a team from the north in this (Pre-Trials) event," Galusha said Thursday.
Galusha, 43, decided a few years ago to start broadening her schedule. This season's plans took a twist over the summer when Curling Canada reached out with word her foursome had a spot in a late-September qualifier in Ottawa for the Pre-Trials.
Her team of Jo-Ann Rizzo, Margot Flemming and Sarah Koltun decided a three-week stint in Ontario was the right call for preparation and game action. With sponsors helping with travel costs, the plan fit in nicely with their effort to get on the road more often and play tougher games more frequently.
"We're all willing to travel more and curl more just to try to compete with the best," Galusha said. "It has worked out."
Galusha, who has been trying to shake a lower-back injury for most of the year, moved to lead while still calling the game and Rizzo went from third to fourth. They plan to continue with the setup for at least the rest of the month.
"We were prepared for this new lineup change and for some reason it just really clicked," said Galusha, a Department of Justice finance officer for the Northwest Territories government. "It takes pressure off of all of us."
They were victorious at the KW Fall Classic and also reached the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard final before falling to Team Hollie Duncan. At the Pre-Trials qualifier, Galusha edged Team Jessie Hunkin 9-8 to secure a berth in the Oct. 25-31 competition at Liverpool, N.S.
While the early rankings only take in this season's events, the success is still satisfying for the players and team sponsors. Galusha said the results have also helped create more team buzz throughout the N.W.T.
"With us losing a final, winning a final, and then coming out of Ottawa, we've already generated that interest up north, which is exactly what we're hoping to do," she said from Toronto. "So it's pretty exciting for all of the North actually."
Galusha first hurt her glute at last season's national women's championship in Calgary. It later developed into a disc herniation problem, she said, noting that treatment has helped her entering this weekend's Stu Sells Toronto Tankard in Oakville, Ont.
The lead position was something new for Galusha, who played tick shots in Ottawa for the first time in her career. Her teammates were comfortable with the throwing order and Rizzo, a resident of Brantford, Ont., settled into the fourth spot right away.
"She's got so much experience and it really showed those three weeks with her throwing last rock," Galusha said. "She played lights out for us. She's really thriving throwing that last rock. It's just really nice to have someone that can step up and do that for us."
Rizzo, who has played fourth at times in her career, played third on the team that Sherry Middaugh skipped to the 2013 Trials final before falling to eventual Sochi Olympic champ Jennifer Jones.
She said the fourth spot works for her, especially with Galusha still calling the game.
"In a lot of ways it's less stressful," Rizzo said with a chuckle. "All I have to do is do what I'm told."
Longtime teammate Shona Barbour has moved into a coach/manager role this season and the team has also started working with a sports psych.
Rizzo said her teammates are happy to have Galusha make the calls, noting the strong team dynamics among the four players allow for direct conversations about potential improvement areas.
"Kerry is a fantastic leader," Rizzo said. "She makes sure that her ship is a tight ship."
Two berths in the main Trials - scheduled for Nov. 20-28 in Saskatoon - will be on the line in Liverpool. Galusha's foursome is in a 14-team field that includes rinks skipped by Sherry Anderson, Corryn Brown, Krista McCarville, Beth Peterson and Mackenzie Zacharias.
"Hopefully we just go in loose and play like we played those (first) three weeks and carry that momentum in," Galusha said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2021.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press