After struggling with her accuracy for much of the game, Vicky Persinger understood exactly what she needed to do on the final shot Sunday. If she could knock an opponent's stone out of scoring position and put her rock closest to the button, she and her teammate, Chris Plys, would win the Olympic trials for mixed doubles curling.
"I tried to mind-block everything and just throw it the best I could, the way I know how,'' Persinger said. "It took me a minute to realize it went far enough.''
Persinger delivered a nearly perfect shot to seal a 7-6 victory over Jamie Sinclair and Rich Ruohonen, earning the Olympic trials crown at Curl Mesabi in Eveleth. Before they can claim a spot at the Beijing Olympics in February, Persinger and Plys have another hurdle to clear. Because the U.S. has not yet qualified for the Winter Games in mixed doubles, they must play in a qualifier Dec. 5-9 in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, where the top two finishers will go on to the Olympics.
The most consistent team in the six-day tournament, Persinger, of Fairbanks, Alaska, and Plys, of Duluth, finished 6-3 in round-robin play and earned the top seed for the playoffs. They faced a hot team in Sinclair, a Minneapolis resident, and Ruohonen, of Brooklyn Park.
Persinger/Plys prevailed in a tight, tense match full of lead changes. Sinclair/Ruohonen had won six of their past seven games entering Sunday's final, including a 9-7 victory over Sarah Anderson and Korey Dropkin in Sunday morning's semifinals.
In the seventh end of the final, Sinclair/Ruohonen used their power play, hoping to score multiple points to overcome a 6-5 deficit. They got only one, and Persinger/Plys had the advantage of having the last shot of the game. Though Persinger wasn't happy with several of her shots Sunday, she made the only one that mattered.
"I'm pretty relieved,'' Plys said. "I've had a lot of heartbreaking losses in (Olympic) trials. To finish one off feels about as good as I hoped it would.''
Plys, an alternate on the U.S. men's curling team for the 2010 Olympics, teamed up with Persinger in 2018. They have been among the top American mixed doubles teams since their partnership began, winning the national championship earlier this year.
The distance between Fairbanks and Duluth, and the travel issues associated with the pandemic, have made it challenging. But the trust and teamwork they share propelled them to the Olympic trials title.
In the final, Ruohonen said the key would be to play consistently, with no big misses. Each team spent time in the lead in the early ends, with Persinger/Plys stealing a point in the fourth end to lead 4-2 at the midpoint.
A nice shot by Sinclair prevented Persinger/Plys from scoring more in that end, and a mistake by Persinger gave Sinclair/Ruohonen an opportunity for multiple points in the fifth end. Persinger's last shot did not curl as much as expected. It bumped an opponent stone to the button, leaving Sinclair an open draw for three points and a 5-4 lead.
Persinger/Plys led 6-5 heading into the seventh end, when Sinclair/Ruohonen used their power play. Sinclair/Ruohonen came away with only one point, though, after Ruohonen missed one shot and had another derailed by debris on the ice. That left the teams in a 6-6 tie with one end to play.
"That was killer,'' Ruohonen said. "You can't have that happen.''
All four of the finalists have another chance to make the Olympic team later this month, when they play in the men's and women's Olympic trials in Omaha. Persinger and Plys have their next tournament set, too.
"It was a roller coaster of a week,'' Persinger said. "It just feels great. Now we have to celebrate, then get ready for the Netherlands."
The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews.