Tom Mix, Published December 30 2013
Fargo Davies senior Branden Scheel leads team to US Junior Curling National Championships
Over the next month, the after-school schedules of Fargo Davies seniors Branden Scheel, Tyler Johnson, Aaron Johnson and Hunter Dennison will include plenty of time at the F-M Curling Club.
The quartet of Fargo curlers, along with Kyson Smith – a freshman at Minot (N.D.) State University – won the North Dakota junior state championship last weekend in Williston, N.D., and next month will compete in the United States Junior National Championships in Seattle.
“It’s a big honor to be representing the state,” said Scheel, who serves as the team’s skip. “We’ll be wearing the eagle from the North Dakota state flag on our jerseys. We are looking forward to it.”
The national competition, which is set for Jan. 25-Feb. 1, will feature 10 teams with the winner representing the U.S. at the 2014 World Junior Championships on Feb. 26-Mar. 5 in Films, Switzerland.
Team Scheel won its first three matches at the Williston Basin Curling Club to clinch its first-ever state junior play-down title, and eventually ended the tournament with a 3-1 record after its fourth match was scored as a forfeit.
“We worked well as a team,” Dennison said. “We didn’t get down when we missed shots. We kept our attitude up and kept looking at the end result. That really helped us get through the weekend.”
The state tournament included three teams in both the boys and girls divisions. The Grand Forks squad won the girls division.
This season marked the fourth time Team Scheel had competed at the state junior play-down tournament, missing nationals by one spot the previous three appearances. Competition included Bismarck and Grand Forks-Devils Lake – both filled with athletes that had competed at previous junior national tournaments.
“Prior to our third match, someone unfortunately brought up that if we won we would be going to nationals,” Dennison said. “We all tried to just work our hardest without thinking about it, but once we finally did win it was great. All of us were pretty happy that we finally made it to nationals. It is our time to go and make a statement.”
“We had been curling together for a long time and had been so close to winning that tournament so to finally be victorious in our senior year of high school felt great,” added Aaron Johnson.
Scheel, Dennison and the Johnson twins have been curling together since 2009. That nucleus produced two bantam and two high school state championships. Smith joined the fold last season.
The team is coached by George Phillips, who lives in Langdon, N.D., and Kelby Smith – Kyson’s father – of Minot.
“We’ve been very cohesive,” said Tyler Johnson, who is the team’s captain. “We’ve had to work as a team to achieve our goals. We won state bantams our first year and we realized then that we might have some potential. We have had our ups and downs, but we’ve improved as we have progressed.”
Scheel said the team will likely hold three to five on-ice practices a week leading up to nationals and will also compete in a warm-up tournament on the weekend of Jan. 17 at the F-M Curling Club.
The team’s preparation will also require plenty of classroom hours in which several different strategies will be discussed.
As skip, strategy is part of the job description for Scheel.
“Everyone has equal input on the team, but being the skip, you have to put in a lot of extra hours and work on strategy with the coaches,” Scheel said. “I love being back there. It’s almost like playing chess on ice. You never really know what will happen and you are always looking ahead to what your opponents might be doing. It really is a mind game much more than a physical game.”
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Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562