BOW VALLEY – The Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic couldn’t have asked for a better finale when curling stars John Morris and Rachel Homan took on the reigning champions.
The back-and-forth finals didn’t disappoint as two-time Olympic gold medallist Morris and 2018 Olympian Homan held off the formidable U.S. duo of Korey Dropkin and Sarah Anderson, winning the 36-team tournament from Jan. 2-5 held at Banff Fenlands arena and Canmore Golf and Curling Club.
“Those guys are an exceptional team and we had to play our best to beat them,” said Morris, who resides in Canmore.
The finals are underway at Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic in #Banff. John Morris and Rachel Homan take on last year’s champs Sarah Anderson and Korey Dropkin. #canmore #curling @MountainCurling pic.twitter.com/dp3Pi4og88— Jordan Small (@jordiesmall) January 5, 2020
On paper, the accomplished Canadians are an imposing force when matched up against the two 24 year olds from Minnesota, but Morris’ veteran wit knew better than to overlook a team that went undefeated in the playoff rounds and knocked off Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones and Brent Laing.
“I’ve gotten stung before when we’ve played a team that maybe isn’t as skilled or experienced because you take them lightly and that’s when they’ll bite you,” Morris said.
The Canadians reunited at the bonspiel after teaming together a few years ago. Morris praised his partner, saying “she’s pretty much one of the best shooters in the game and makes my job a lot easier.”
However, nothing came easy for the pair in the finals when the young gun U.S. team fired back into contention from being down five points and threatened to blow the game wide open.
In the eighth and final end, Homan had a bad pick on a line and then Morris’ first throw curled away and failed to smack an opposing rock out of the house, giving Dropkin and Anderson life in the crucial final throws.
“All of the sudden it looked like we were going to give up three or four and it would have been a disaster, but we hung tough and got a little fortunate on one of theirs and took advantage of it,” Morris said.
Just when things “weren’t looking so good” with the Canadians clinging to a 9-7 lead and the U.S. team threatening to overtake things, Morris and Homan breathed a sigh of relief when Dropkin over-curled a pivotal tick shot that changed the course of the game.
Morris said “you could hear a pin drop” inside the closed Fenlands rink as the crowd attentively watched the strategic battle unfold.
“We got a little fortunate in Korey’s second [throw] there, but that’s the great thing about mixed doubles, you’re never out of it,” Morris said.
Morris and Homan became the second winners of the Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic put on by Rocky Mountain Curling Association and the two local curling clubs, winning the Rundle Rock trophy and $8,500 grand prize. Anderson and Dropkin received the $6,500 consolation prize.
Korey Dropkin’s blistered hands after competing at the Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic in #Banff. Dropkin and Sarah Anderson lost in the finals to John Morris and Rachel Homan. #Canmore #curling #mixeddoubles @MountainCurling @kdropkin pic.twitter.com/KatZRRy8qp— Jordan Small (@jordiesmall) January 7, 2020
After the tournament, Dropkin’s palms and fingers were blistered from sweeping over the four days, which forced the U.S. curler to bandage his raw hands in the finals.
“Definitely going through a bit of pain here and there, but I don’t think it really effected me too much performance-wise, we had a really good week,” Dropkin said. “I didn’t put it together during that last game and Sarah kept me in the game for the most part and we had fun here and enjoyed the experience.”
They were humbled to have made the finals two years in a row and Dropkin said they’ll be back next year to try and re-earn the title.
The local mixed doubles bonspiel is designed to be an all-inclusive world-class event that encourages local curling duos to enter and create a mix of competitiveness and also honour the social aspect of the game.
Of the 36 teams competing, four teams represented the Bow Valley, plus 21 other teams from around Canada and 11 international duos competed including teams from Norway, Czech Republic and Switzerland.
“It’s so awesome to see where this event has come in two years,” Morris said. “It’s always very proud to showcase the Bow Valley and Banff and Canmore and to win it, it’s the cherry on the top and it sure feels good.”