Team Osbakken advances to nationals again
Last year, after her team advanced to the Junior Nationals Curling Championship for the first time, Two Harbors native Courtney Osbakken was excited but not satisfied — she said she would be aiming higher in the future.
She'll have that chance — the women advanced again this year, with a slightly different lineup and new coach, and they have their sights set on a top 3 spot and the accompanying medal.
"We felt confident and prepared," she said Tuesday, "but we don't ever let our guard down because in curling, any team can beat any team."
Osbakken, 19, has been curling since she was 10 years old, and has no plans to stop. She currently attends the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and said she has taken a number of her friends curling.
"A lot of people just go, 'What? You curl?'" she said. Osbakken said she will take anyone who is interested out on the ice for a crash course in curling. "Once they get out there, they're like, 'This is a lot harder than it looks.'"
However, Team Osbakken makes it look easy. The reigning state champions they were ranked second going into the Minnesota state juniors playdowns in December, the qualifier for the national competition.
"That was kind of surprising because we had just won state," Osbakken said, but they soundly defeated the four competing teams in a round robin tournament, securing their place at nationals.
Fayth Yecoshenko stepped down from the team last year, and Lexi Lanigan, formerly the alternate, took her place. In addition, Osbakken's dad Rick stepped down from coaching and Mike Solem took over.
"It's been a great experience all around. This team is very enjoyable," Solem said.
He lives in Grand Rapids and curls at the same rink as team member Emma Bromenschenkel. He has curled since 1980, and spent the last six years coaching the junior women's team that included his two daughters. They went to the national competition six times, medaled four times and even advanced to worlds once.
Nationals take place in Devils Lake, N.D., Jan. 18-24, and the girls are prepping with a lot of time on ice. Osbakken, Lanigan, Bromenschenkel and Rebecca Miles will practice twice together, play one game and spend a lot of solo time on the rink, too.
Most of the prep was done much earlier. The girls have played together for four years now. They regularly attend camps during the summers and compete at curling tournaments, or bonspiels in curling lingo, almost every weekend during the season. In addition, they play in weeknight leagues and practice regularly.
Osbakken is the skip, or captain, for the team. She said Solem has helped a lot with the strategic part of the game.
"They are welcoming what I'm giving them," Solem said. "They are progressing all the time. I'm helping Courtney get the most out of her players."
That's why they've set their sights much higher than the second-to-last place they got at nationals last year.
"Last year, for being our first year, we definitely held our own," Osbakken said. "This year our team goal is to medal at nationals."
Solem said they have a good chance at being in the top 4 after round robin and playing for a medal. On top of their prowess on the curling rink, they have also mastered the art of good sportsmanship, on which curlers place high value.
"Our opponents like our team. The other parents have noticed our girls as well," Solem said. "They are just a likable group."
The tournament starts Jan. 18 and some of the games will be live streamed. The schedule is posted here.