Leyden’s Rebecca Rodgers ready for Junior Curling Nationals

  • Leyden’s Rebecca Rodgers, top left, and her teammates compete during a tournament in Toronto earlier this season. Rodgers & Co. are amongst the favorites in the USA Curling Junior National Championships, set to begin on Monday in Eau Claire, Wisc. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Team Strouse poses for a photo in China last month for a curling tournament. From left to right: Delaney Strouse, Sydney Mullaney, Susan Dudt and Rebecca Rodgers CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Leyden’s Rebecca Rodgers, left, and teammate Sydney Mullaney compete at the International Curling Elite in China last month. The pair, along with teammates Delaney Strouse and Susan Dudt, will compete in the USA Curling Junior National Championships, set to begin on Monday in Eau Claire, Wisc. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2020 7:58:50 PM
Modified: 1/10/2020 7:58:10 PM

Come Monday, Rebecca Rodgers will be firmly focused on going for gold.

The 19-year-old Leyden resident has had a busy winter on the curling front, and that schedule reaches its apex this week as Rodgers and her trio of teammates look to capture gold at the USA Curling Junior National Championships. The tournament, which crowns the best Under-21 team in the country, begins in Eau Claire, Wis., with opening ceremonies on Sunday night. Rodgers and her teammates play their first match on Monday at 1 p.m.

The eight-team field will compete throughout the week, with finals set for next Saturday.

“This is our big event for the season. It all leads up to this,” said Rodgers, a Pioneer Valley Regional School graduate who currently attends the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She’ll be competing at her home curling club for the Junior Nationals, though sheet conditions will certainly be different with national ice makers coming to town for the big event.

Rodgers is no stranger to success in this particular tournament. She’s won the bronze medal each of the past two years, and Monday will mark her sixth consecutive year competing in the Junior Nationals. The stakes have gone up however, as Rodgers was selected to USA Curling’s High Performance Program last fall. One of just two U-21 HP teams nationally, she knows that the prestige that comes with that tag will make her and her teammates ones to watch at Nationals.

“I don’t really get the, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so nervous now’ feeling… I’m pretty used to it,” Rodgers began. “But there’s this newfound pressure of being a High Performance team. There is pressure to perform and do well. The expectations go up. It’s a challenge that I really like to take on. Everyone wants to beat you.”

With two consecutive bronze medals in her trophy case, Rodgers and teammates Delaney Strouse (Midland, Mich.), Sydney Mullaney (Concord, Mass.) and Susan Dudt (Malvern, Pa.) — which will play as Team Strouse throughout the competition — are ready to take the next step. The winners of the tournament will qualify for a spot in the USA Curling Women’s National Championship, set for Feb. 8-15 in Cheney, Wash.

“Definitely the goal is gold for us,” Rodgers said. “It’s a very long tournament. There’s definitely a lot of steps to get there but we’ve done the preparation necessary, and we want to do better than bronze.”

While the Junior Nationals represent the pinnacle of her winter, Rodgers has been plenty busy over the past few months. One of her biggest highlights came in early December, when she and her teammates traveled to China for an international tournament.

“It was a really great opportunity and experience for my team,” she said of the trip. “Considering we’re so young, to be able to have that experience was awesome — our first big international experience.”

Rodgers returned from China and took her college finals at Wisconsin-Eau Claire before heading back to Leyden for the holidays. She returned to Wisconsin and competed in a women’s challenge tournament last week, and has stayed in Eau Claire in preparation for Junior Nationals.

“We’ve been doing a little more traveling than is typical to our season,” she began. “Granted, we’re all pretty used to travel at this point, but still. I’d say the biggest change for me would be the time commitment (since joining the HP program). It’s not just making sure you’re practicing on the ice, but also getting into the gym, the physical component of it.”

The extra travel has certainly benefited Team Strouse. Rodgers said the team bonding aspect of the past few months has been a huge part of their success, and she hopes that’ll pay dividends on the big stage.

“We’ve played so much together this season. Getting used to each other on the ice is one thing, but when you travel so much with these three other people, you get to know them, get close, become friends with them,” Rodgers said. “An opportunity like going to China … none of us had ever been to Asia before so we did a lot of bonding as friends outside of just curling.”

Rodgers said her parents, John and Michelle, are both making the trip from Leyden to Wisconsin for Junior Nationals.

“My dad hasn’t been to an Under-21 Nationals yet so I’m excited for him to come out and watch me,” she said.

Rodgers’ team has two matches scheduled for Monday, and they’ll play all seven teams in a round-robin format over the first four days of competition before playoff rounds begin on Friday. Matches will be streamed online throughout the week at: 2020jrnationalscurling.com/clubs/curling_junior_nationals

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