By welcoming Ottawa curler Emilie Lovitt to the fold this year, it was a given that Team Croisier would hit the ice with a bit of a twist for the 2019-20 season.
What has not changed within this grouping of local talent is the single-mindedness of the vision of what their year-end resume should resemble, the series of targeted goals highlighted by an appearance at the Canadian U18 Championships, an event to which Sudbury is playing host come next April.
For the Idylwylde Golf and Country Club quartet of Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Lauren Rajala and Piper Croisier, it is time to build on an ultra-successful 2018-19 campaign, all while integrating Lovitt into the mix.
The addition of a fifth was a move necessitated by the wonderful opportunity that has presented itself to Lauren Rajala, selected to participate in the 2020 WinterYouth Olympics in Switzerland in January, which crosses directly into at least a portion of the curling calendar for Team Croisier back home.
“We have seen each other for about two years now, just on the competitive tour,” explained Lovitt, a 17-year-old first-year student of Law and Justice at Laurentian University, who was born in Austria and whose parents both work for the United Nations.
“Last year, we played them at the Canada Winter Games trials and became friends after they beat us in the final. We kept in contact with them after that.”
An avid figure skater and multi-sport participant in her youth, the newcomer to Team Croisier was only introduced to curling at the age of 11, when the family moved out to Vankleek Hill, some 100 kilometres outside of downtown Ottawa.
“Our neighbours introduced me to curling,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to meet people and make new friends.”
Quickly, the attraction grew well beyond those initial first impressions. “I really love the teamwork aspect of curling,” said Lovitt. “You’re just four curlers (or five, in this case), so you really need to become best friends, both on and off the ice, with your team.”
While she has been manning a front-end position for this rink since her arrival in Northern Ontario, Lovitt actually displays a great deal of versatility, never a bad thing in the eyes of any team.
“I’ve played every position and I love all of them equally, I think they all bring a different aspect to the game,” she said. “Second and third are fun positions, because you get to sweep, but also to throw different shots. I like playing lead, it’s cool to set up the end. I don’t think skip is my forte – I kind of like having someone tell me what to do.”
In Team Croisier, Lovitt has found a team that is every bit as focused on the work ethic required to compete with the truly elite in their age group, and beyond.
“I’m just really focused on improving and seeing how I can bring my focus and intensity that I have in practice into competition,” stated Piper Croisier, the traditional second with this quartet.
“Of course, when I first started curling, we were just happy if I got it over the hog-line, so that’s a big improvement,” she added with a laugh.
Truth be told, while the Croisier crew will enter the U18 playdown season as prohibitive favourites to emerge from the NOCA and most likely contend at nationals, they can also more than hold their own against all of the top U21 women’s teams in Ontario (and Canada), as well.
“I think our big focus this year is on strategy, to bring that U21 level of strategy of rock placement and where everything really needs to be, and take that forward into the U18 events as well,” said Croisier. “The biggest difference is thinking a few shots ahead.
“At U21, you’re thinking that if you put your rock here, they are going to go there, and then I have this shot. But it’s also knowing that I have a way out, if I need it, if I need a double, or want to try and blank the end.”
Like many of the other very successful young curlers in this area, the ability to develop this highly strategic approach to the game starts at home.
“I think my sister and I are lucky that we have our coach (father Shawn Croisier) living at home with us, so we can have a one- or two-hour strategy session, maybe go over some of our past games.”
Though it’s worked out well to date, it’s also caused the bar to be raised continually, a natural by-product for a team that captured gold at both the 2020 Canada Winter Games and the U18 Canadian championships last year.
“Having success does put a lot of expectations on us, but if anything for me, it kind of fuels me,” said Croisier. “I felt that taste of success last year and want it even more this year.”
There is also the small fact of nationals coming to Sudbury, and the hopes of a local curling community that they can cheer on some of their own next spring.
“I actually look at having Sudbury for nationals as a privilege,” said Croisier. “Obviously, we have to make it there first. If we do end up making it, it will be amazing, with lots of friends and family to come out and watch us, which is pretty exciting.
“I don’t think of that as a distraction.”
Team Croisier did not look distracted in capturing the U18 Pegasus Women’s Slam last weekend in Orillia, capping off a series of seven consecutive wins with an 8-3 triumph over Jenny Madden of Manotick in the bonspiel final.
Randy in the Rings runs weekly during the curling season.