|Anton Hood and Courtney Smith were one of twelve teams who lined up to qualify|
2 Aug 2021 – The next step in the quest for New Zealand to send a Mixed Doubles curling team to the Beijing Winter Olympics took place at Naseby last weekend, with a qualifying tournament to find the four teams who will contest the NZ Championship. The national champions will have the chance to represent New Zealand in the last-chance Olympic qualifying event and at the 2022 World Championship.
The twelve teams contesting the Qualifier were split into two pools, and the two pool winners would be the first teams to qualify for September's NZ Championship.
Mhairi-Bronté Duncan and Brett Sargon became the first to reach that goal, winning their first four games to take an unassailable lead in their pool with a game to spare.
"We're pretty stoked with how we played, especially as we are still a relatively new team," said Sargon after the event. "We put some extra training sessions in, and we're slowly tweaking our play and growing as a team. This tournament showed us we're on the right path! Looking forward to September."
The other pool was much tighter, with three teams tied at the top of the standings as the last round of games got under way. Of the three, only Natalie Thurlow and Warren Dobson won their final game to top the pool and qualify directly to the Championship.
Nat Thurlow commented, "It was great to get a few wins in our first tournament together in 12 months. We had a couple of shaky games but settled as we went on. Coming into the last pool game it wasn't looking great for us, but we're incredibly lucky that all results went in our favour to leave us on top."
The second-ranked team in each pool played the third-ranked side from the other pool in a three-game series to determine the other two Championship qualifiers.
Courtney Smith and Anton Hood, the 21-year-olds who were one win away from a playoff for Beijing at this year's World Championship, took on the more experienced Bridget Becker and Scott Becker, both winners of multiple national titles.
Courtney and Anton won the first playoff game 11-4 but the second was much tighter, going to an extra end before the younger pair claimed an 11-10 win to earn the third Championship spot.
The contest between two Under-21 sides for the fourth and final Championship place went down to the last stone of the third and deciding game of the series. Ruby Kinney and Hunter Walker scored two with hammer to break the deadlock and win their match against siblings Grace and Jayden Apuwai-Bishop 8-6, and to take the series 2-1.
Ruby Kinney was delighted after the match. "It was a tense last few games," she said, "and we had to really work for the win. We're looking forward to the challenge of the Championship and playing against some very experienced curlers."
The five sides to qualify will contest the NZ Mixed Doubles Championship on 17-19 September at Naseby's Maniototo Curling International rink.
Update 6 August: The NZCA Executive has confirmed a dispensation to allow a fifth pair, Jessica Smith and Ben Smith, to join the teams qualified for the NZ Championship. Illness prevented them from playing in the Qualifier.