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Eric Peterson, Published February 17 2011

Curling is a family affair for Mackenzie and Patti Lank

Mackenzie Lank is playing in her first women’s curling nationals, but that may not be completely accurate.

While she had yet to be born, Lank was part of the 1994 nationals.

“I was pregnant with her so she has been to a nationals before,” said Patti Lank, Mackenzie’s mom, with a chuckle.

At 16 years old, Mackenzie Lank is one of the youngest competitors in the women’s field at the USA Curling National Championships at Scheels Arena. Mackenzie is playing lead for the team that her mom is skipping. Team Lank has earned one of the four spots for the women’s playoffs, which start at 8 tonight.

“It makes it special because she is fun,” Patti said of her daughter. “She has a very bubbly personality so she is fun to have out there. … She brings a little bit of fire to the table.”

Patti Lank, 46, is playing in her 16th consecutive women’s nationals. Her teams have placed in the top three the past 15 years, including four national titles.

Mackenize Lank has played in three junior nationals, the first coming in 2008. Mackenzie led her team to a bronze-medal finish at the recent junior nationals in Fairbanks, Alaska.

While they curl together regularly, Mackenzie has enjoyed playing with her mom for the first time in major competition.

“I like it,” Mackenzie said. “I think it’s better than curling with someone who won’t tell you what they’re thinking. She’ll actually tell me what I’m doing wrong and all that stuff.”

Jessica Schultz, 26, has played with Patti for two years. This is her first year playing with Mackenzie. Schultz said it’s been fun to observe that mother-daughter relationship.

“They’re exactly alike,” Schultz said with a laugh. “They’re forgetful and they leave things in random places.”

Mackenzie Lank, a high school junior from Lewiston, N.Y., is competing in her second week-long tournament in three weeks. The junior nationals ended on Feb. 5. Mackenzie said missing the class time hasn’t been too difficult because she had her mid-terms the week prior to junior nationals. In addition, she has next week off.

“So she will catch up on some stuff,” Patti said. “She is an honor student. She is on the honor roll. It’s just a matter of missing dates, but her marks are good. If her school work goes down, we will pull her away from curling.”

Mackenzie, who has an older sister Madisson, said some of her first memories are from being around the curling rink. Patti said as soon as both her daughters could walk, they would put helmets on them and let them “toddle” on their own around the ice sheets.

“I remember when I was really little I used to sit on the rocks so my mom would push me down the ice and I would spin in circles,” Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie said the first draw she played in this tournament was “nerve wracking,” but she has been fine since.

“She made her first two shots of the tournament and she comes back to put her little sliding stick down and I gave her a hug,” Patti said. “I said ‘Now you can relax and play your game.’ ”

Mackenzie said having an experienced player like her mother there has helped.

“She knows the pressure I’m under as a 16-year-old so she just, like, tunes it down,” Mackenzie said. “She is not too hard on me.”

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Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

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at peterson.areavoices.com