MANKATO — Jake Palmer looked out over his icy domain Thursday and spoke of the sport being played in Mankato this week by 20 U.S. teams.
“Curling takes 15 minutes to learn but a lifetime to master,” said the co-chairman of the 2012 Club Nationals competition hosted by Mankato Curling Club.
Ten women’s and 10 men’s teams have been competing for the past week at Caledonia Community Center with finals matches slated for Saturday.
The local curling club, which hosted the event last year, was pressed into service again this year when organizers in the competition’s scheduled host city backed out, Palmer said.
That late change suited Team 1 women from the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club just fine.
“This is some of the best ice I’ve seen,” said team member Regan Mizuno, who hails from Canada where the sport is huge.
The squad was in third place in the event standings heading into today’s play and figured to be among the top four teams advancing to Saturday’s championship round.
The San Francisco team is first in the history of the multi-state Mountain Pacific curling region to make it to the U.S. Club Nationals playoff round.
“We have great teamwork,” said Gabrielle Coleman, the team’s skip, or captain.
Mizuno was more ethereal in explaining their success.
“We’re in the right place at the right time. The stars kind of aligned.”
In curling, the Midwest has the strongest traditions, the East is coming on strong, and the West is trying to catch up to both, team members said.
The Bay Area Club doesn’t have the luxury back home of practicing and playing on specially treated curling ice.
The club curls on the arena ice of the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League, which is great for skating but decidedly subpar for curling, which requires “pebbled” harder ice to better facilitate the glide of the rocks.
“It’s like the difference between playing golf on dirt greens and grass greens,” Mizuno said of hockey/curling ice disparities.
Teams advancing all the way through Saturday’s matches will have played 11 times in the past week.
“It’s a grind,” said Mizuno, who latched on with the San Francisco team in roundabout fashion.
She said she’d been an occasional curler in 2009 when she sang the national anthem at the Olympic trials in Colorado, where she was living.
Coleman was curling at the trials. They met, Mizuno eventually moved to California and took up the sport in earnest.
In national club curling competition, team members all must belong to the same club. The Mankato event represents club curling’s highest competition and does not lead to a world championship.