Local curling club collecting recognition, championship
JANESVILLE The Janesville Blackhawk Curling Club's Mark Olson Rink is a good curling team, but it hadn't broken through until this season.
Olson, Paul Rudkin, Ryan Spielman and Aaron Richards have had their moments. Last December in Appleton, however, they hit paydirt, winning the Wisconsin Club championship to become the first Blackhawk Club team to win the state club title in 40 years.
Winning the state title qualified Janesville for the men's National Curling Championships earlier this month, and success got even sweeter, as the team won a bronze medal.
"Five years we've been playing in the Wisconsin (Club Championship), and we've done OK but never good enough to win it," said Rudkin, the team vice. "Finally this year, we got a little more serious."
Rudkin said the team enlisted the help of a coach, Steve Brown from Madison, and it paid dividends. The Olson Rink defeated the Mike Fraboni Rink of Madison, 11-4 in eight ends, for the state club title.
"It was just a matter of playing together," Rudkin said. "Over the past couple years, I think we all just got better. Strategy improved, and game management improved, and ultimately, we just made more shots than the other teams."
Rudkin said several teams held serve on Janesville at state over the years.
"Typically, the Madison teams are the tough teams, and they are kind of the nemesis," Rudkin said. "A couple of the teams we had curled against over the years, and we just couldn't seem to get over the hump."
Until this year. The team had reached its goal.
"We were feeling great," Rudkin said. "Winning Wisconsin, this was a big deal. This was all we ever cared about."
Moving on to the nationals in Highland Park, Ill., the Olson Rink was filled with confidence. The national tournament was a higher level, but the curlers thought they were ready for it.
"We won Wisconsin and going to the nationals was like frosting on the cake," Rudkin said. "As the time drew near, we thought maybe we can play a little bit better, so let's see what we can do."
The Janesville team was seeded fifth in the 10-team field. It was a good start.
"Just because you are from Wisconsin, you generally get seeded a little higher," Rudkin said. "We were nobody. Nobody knows us, but had we not been from Wisconsin and won Wisconsin, we would have been seeded on the bottom."
The Janesville team went to nationals with minimal expectations.
"The goal was to win a few games and not get embarrassed," Rudkin said. "In the back of our heads, we knew we played some good teams over the years, and we knew we would probably be OK."
The team started better than that, winning its first four games.
"We were like, 'Wow, we are OK,'" Rudkin said.
The competition got stronger, and the Olson Rink was 5-4 after the round-robin series, gaining the third seed for the finals.
Janesville lost in the semifinals to a team from the state of Washington, the eventual national champs, but defeated Alaska for the bronze medal.
"It's a big deal (for us)," Rudkin said. "This is the first time Blackhawk has won a national medal and a state championship."
Ken Veloskey is a sports writer for The Gazette.