The way Matt and Becca Hamilton see it, they got a head start. While other mixed doubles curling teams need time to learn each other's personalities and tendencies, the siblings from McFarland, Wis., already had that part of the equation well in hand.
"There's a lot more to it than making shots,'' said Matt, 28, who is one year older than his sister. "There's chemistry and emotion. We live in the same town, hang out a lot, have a lot of the same friends.''
They also share the ambition to represent the U.S. in mixed doubles at the Olympics, when this scaled-down version of curling makes its Winter Games debut this February in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Hamiltons moved closer to that goal Saturday by beating Cory Christensen and John Shuster 6-3 in the playoffs at the U.S. Olympic trials at Blaine's Fogerty Arena. The victory gave the siblings a place in Sunday's championship game, where a win would earn them the Olympic berth.
Christensen and Shuster earned the top seed for the playoffs with a 6-1 record in round-robin play. They will play Vicky Persinger and Jared Zezel Sunday morning, with the winner moving on to the final. Persinger and Zezel, the No. 3 seed, beat fourth-seeded Nina Roth and Kroy Nernberger 8-4 in Saturday's other playoff game.
After losing the first two games of the trials, the Hamiltons have reeled off six victories in a row. Matt, who helped Becca learn to curl, joked that he used to enjoy playing against her one-on-one — until she started winning. It was much more fun to win together, he reasoned, something they've done frequently since joining forces.
"Mixed doubles is a totally different game,'' said Becca Hamilton, who teamed with Matt to win the 2017 U.S. mixed doubles championship and place 10th at the world championships. "We play a lot of men's and women's curling with our teams, and when you come back [to mixed doubles], you have to change your strategy a little bit.
"We started out slow, but we're really capitalizing now. We're finally catching our groove.''
The fun-loving Hamiltons brought a large, loud contingent of supporters to Blaine. It included many of the people who traveled to Omaha a month ago to root for them at the Olympic trials for men's and women's curling, where both were part of the winning teams. Matt plays for the men's team skipped by Shuster, and Becca is a member of Roth's foursome.
Having already made the Olympic team eased some pressure going into the mixed doubles trials. Still, Matt said he and his sister are "hypercompetitive,'' which showed as they pushed back from their poor start to the tournament.
The Hamiltons dealt Christensen and Shuster their only loss in round-robin play, then beat them again Saturday. Neither team could score more than one point in the first seven ends in the playoff opener, but a great shot in the fifth end by Becca Hamilton allowed the Hamiltons to steal a point in an end where their opponents had a chance to score multiple points.
That gave them a 3-2 lead and a load of confidence, and the Hamiltons scored two points in the final end to seal the victory.
Shuster, a Chisholm native, and Christensen, of Duluth, also have a curling history that runs deeper than their three-year mixed doubles partnership. Shuster helped run the junior program at the Duluth Curling Club, tutoring Christensen as she developed into one of America's top young curlers.
Still, no one in the trials field has the familial bond of the Hamiltons, who would love to add mixed doubles to their Olympic agenda.
"We've spent our whole lives training to curl,'' Matt said. "We've been training to do this. Now, we're proving we're ready.''