The MIT curling team clinched bronze at the Curling Collegiate National Championship held at Chaska, MN from March 11 to 13. The Engineers comprehensively outplayed Nebraska, ending with a score of 12-4 to secure their second third-place finish in as many years at the nationals.
The journey to the finals began in the fall of 2015 for the team, which comprises captain Gregory A. Dooley G, Alexander W. Hull G, Nathaniel K. Bailey G, and Cody Karcher G. The team played in seven Bonspiels (curling tournaments) and placed in the top 16 college teams across the country to secure a place in the national championships.
Quite remarkably, Dooley, Karcher, and Bailey had all taken up curling as a sport after they joined MIT as graduate students. Dooley notes, “It is not often you can take up a sport in graduate school and yet get compete at a high level, even in the nationals.” Hull on the other hand had played for Colgate, a team he squared up against at the nationals.
“It is not just about sliding 42-pound stones on a sheet of ice and guiding them within the house (concentric rings drawn on the sheet of ice that serve as the scoring-zone),” Dooley explained. “There is strategy too.”
Teams alternate turns to slide stones with the aim of maximizing the number of stones placed by a team within the house after eight tries. However, it is also within a player’s right to attempt to displace an opposing team’s stone within the house by executing hits or peels.
“Often you place stones outside the scoring zone in early attempts to set up a curling shot toward the end such that you have those stones guarding against hits or peels,” Dooley said. The trajectory of the stone on ice is influenced by teammates who sweep the snow from the path of the stones with curling brooms.
As you would expect from engineers, the team had devised strategies based on the players’ strengths to maximize their chances of winning.
“We have different expertise when it comes to executing different kinds of shots and adjust our game plan accordingly,” explained Bailey.
If you thought the secret to their success lay in execution of their shots and strategy only, you would be missing a key element of curling. The players have specialized shoes such that the shoe corresponding to the dominant leg grips well on snow while the other is teflon-coated to allow for smoother gliding. It takes the right equipment, strategy, sweeping, and execution to excel at the sport referred to as “chess on ice.”
For Dooley, a five-year veteran, this national meet was a swansong. For the rest of the team, the quest for glory resumes next Friday as they hit the Broomstones Curling Club, the MIT curling club’s stomping ground.