MacKinnon: University of Alberta curling program provides accelerated pathway to elite competition
Brier spectators Bottcher, Crocker poster athletes for innovative development model
Brendan Bottcher delivers a rock during against the Kevin Koe foursome at the Boston Pizza Cup Alberta Men’s Curling Championship held at Sobey’s Arena in the Leduc Recreation Centre on February 8, 2013.
Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Two spectators at the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier this week with a more than casual interest in the proceedings will be young skips Brenden Bottcher and Laura Crocker, who are developing their considerable talents through the University of Alberta’s curling program at the Saville Centre.
Unlike the Old Lions — or Bears, as in Kevin Martin’s case — Bottcher, 21, and Crocker, 22, are the poster athletes for the innovative development model at the U of A under head coach Rob Krepps.
Rather than apprentice, as it were, for years in the long-established club curling system, athletes talented enough to work with the U of A program are meant to be on an accelerated pathway to elite competition.
“I think what makes it unique is that, although there are no shortcuts in high-performance sport, I do believe it’s possible to fast-track athletes, to get them to a place sooner than might traditionally have happened in our sport,” Krepps said an interview Monday. “If you take a look at the Brier, three of the greatest skips that have ever played the game are there (Martin, Howard, Stoughton) and they’re all in their late 40s or early 50s.
“Our sport is complicated, it takes an awful lot to learn. But I’m not sure that you have to wait until your mid- to late 30s or early 40s to get there.
“I think with the right training program, the right coaching expertise we can get our athletes there 10 years sooner.”
The U of A model is a longitudinal one, in that it works with juvenile- and junior-age players, the junior varsity and varsity men’s Golden Bears and Pandas teams, as well as teams beginning to make their way on the senior curling circuits, as with Bottcher and Crocker.
The Saville Centre is a one-stop shop for athletes like Crocker, the two-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) champion, and Bottcher, the 2012 Alberta, Canadian and world junior champ, as well as the CIS champion that year.
U of A athletes train and practise there, and have access to nutritionists, sport psychologists, the full gamut of support that has become necessary for elite athletes to compete worldwide.
“What we’re doing here is putting in place a 10-year program to get somebody from an entry-level juvenile player until the time that they have graduated from university and are on our touring teams,” Krepps said. “I’d like to think that we can get an athlete to the top of an international podium by the time they’re about 25. That’s the goal, anyway. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
In Bottcher and Crocker, they may well achieve that goal. The potential certainly is there.
Crocker, who won her CIS titles while completing a psychology degree at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, moved to Edmonton, along with teammates Sarah Wilkes and Jenn Gates, after graduation to train and prepare to represent Canada at the 2013 Universiade in Trentino, Italy, in December.
She is able to train and practise at the Saville Centre, where she also holds down a part-time job to help pay the bills. Thanks to some supportive sponsors, Crocker is able to be a full-time athlete in the run-up to Universiade.
“I think the game itself is getting younger,” Crocker said. “You have to be fitter now to do well. Some of the older players just can’t keep up anymore.
“Not only that, I think we’re getting good faster because of resources like this.
“Whereas before someone would need to play for 10 years just to gain the experience, we go to a tournament on the weekend and we’re playing against (2006 Olympic bronze medallist) Shannon Kleibrink and (former Canadian and world champion) Jennifer Jones and people like that and we’re gaining the experience a lot faster than they ever have.”
Bottcher, who will also compete for Canada at the Universiade, is aiming to qualify for the pre-Olympic trials tournament in Kitchener, Ont., Nov. 5-10 and, if possible, for the Trials themselves in Winnipeg, Dec. 1-8.
“We’re sitting just outside at this moment, but we have a couple of events here at the end of the year,” said Bottcher, a third-year chemical engineering student at the U of A. “It would be nice to get the experience, to go there and know what it’s all about.”
The Universiade competition goes from Dec. 1l -21, also, so if Bottcher’s plans worked out, he’d be in for a mighty busy late fall and early winter.
“There’s not a whole lot I do besides curling, you know?” he said, laughingly.
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