Aaron Johnston looks a little like a sprinter settling into his starting blocks as he crouches down onto the ice. His right leg is extended all the way back. His right hand sits on the handle of the 42-pound polished granite rock called the stone. Johnston pushes off the block behind him, glides and before he reaches the red stripe on the ice, lets go.
“The line’s getting fast,” shouts Darryl Sobering, who’s tasked with determining what path the stone should take, from the opposite end of the rink. “Easy.”
Evan Jaffe and Josh Chetwynd cease furiously sweeping but keep pace with the stone in case they’re needed. They watch as their yellow-handled stone enters the bullseye target called the house and bumps a red-handled stone out of it.
“Good work, guys,” Sobering says.
This is Tuesday night at the Denver Curling Club in Golden. The members of Team Sobering, who are part of Northern Colorado’s small but growing curling community, are one round into their weekly game here.
Team Sobering has only played together for five months now, but already they’ve climbed to eighth in the national rankings and qualified for the USA National Championships that are scheduled for Feb. 11-18 in Everett, Washington.
They range in age from 24 to 45 and all work in different fields. Johnston, the youngest, is a civil engineer. Jaffe, 30, is a software designer. Sobering, 40, is a real estate agent. And Chetwynd, the oldest, is an author.
Team Sobering qualified for the USA National Championships at the U.S. Men’s Challenge Round earlier this month. They reeled off five straight wins after dropping their first two games, which gave them enough points to qualify for the National Championships. Ten teams will be there. The majority are from Midwestern states — Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin are all represented — and Canada.
Sobering’s crew is the first men’s team from Colorado to qualify for the tournament since 1995. The reason for their rapid rise, they say, is mainly due to two things: chemistry and the new state-of-the art curling facility in Golden.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Jaffe says. “Sweeping isn’t just sweeping the broom back and forth. It’s learning to communicate how fast the stone is moving and where you think it’s going to end up. Communication is huge.”
Each member of the team has a role every time a stone is thrown. That’s part of the reason why Chetwynd, a former Division I baseball player, says he’s taken to the sport.
“If you play baseball, and you’re in left field and the ball goes to right field, it’s not likely that you’re going to be involved,” Chetwynd says. “Everyone’s involved in every single play here, and I love that.”
Chetwynd started playing not long after the Denver Curling Club opened the doors to its facility in Golden in 2014. The $3.4 million, 18,200 square-foot building is one of the few centers dedicated to curling in the Western United States. The next-closest one is 699 miles away in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Prior to its opening, the Denver Curling Club operated at The Ice Ranch in Littleton. The ice there was hockey ice, while the ice at the new facility is designated specifically for curling. That makes an enormous difference.
“Curling at the Ice Ranch is like golfing at a municipal golf course. Putting greens that are chewed up,” Denver Curling Club president Phil Moir says. “And this is like basically putting at Augusta.”
Sobering and his crew, who are trying to raise money through GoFundMe for their trip, will try to become just the second team from Colorado to win a national championship. A Colorado team has only won at the National Championships once before, and that was in 1983.
“It feels pretty good,” Sobering says. “We’re a little surprised. It normally takes a team a little time to gel and just get the kinks out. We gelled pretty quickly. I’m excited and proud of these guys.”
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