February 2007 College Athletes of the Month: Team USA
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Five Minnesota students are now World Champions.
“It was a surreal experience I hope to live to tell my grandchildren about,” says Shane McKinlay, one of five members on Team USA Curling, and the U.S. delegation’s honorary flag bearer for the closing ceremonies.
Team USA (more locally known as Team Shuster, after its skip) is comprised of John Shuster, Jeff Isaacson, Chris Plys, Shane McKinlay and Kevin Johnson. They’re students – or in Isaacson’s case, a recent graduate – at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Bemidji State University, Lake Superior College, Hibbing Community College and the University of Minnesota-Duluth, respectively.
School was far from their minds last month, though, as the five curlers, plus Coach Ed Lukowich, Team Leader Kellie Krake and a few family members, traveled to Pinerolo, Italy for the Winter World University Games January 17-27.
Team USA got off to a rough start, losing the opening match to Switzerland, but they won the next seven in a row. Then, after a close loss to Great Britain (6-4), Team USA completed the round-robin portion tied with Canada and Great Britain for first place. Each team had 7-2 records.
A shoot-out decided semifinals rankings and Minnesota landed second, facing — and eventually beating — powerhouse Canada (7-3), earning a spot to play in the final round for gold. That gave Team USA the chance for a re-match against earlier rivals Great Britain. They beat Britain handedly (9-4) to become Curling World Champions.
“We thought we should have beat them the first time so it’s nice to come back and show them who really was the better team,” Plys said after the win.
Photo Courtesy of USA Curling
His teammate, McKinlay, was a little more struck for words.
“I have always watched players win World Championships and become speechless when it’s time to be interviewed about their win. I always thought I would have something great to say when my time came, but when I was interviewed after our win, I was speechless and I finally understood how they felt.”
Although a world away from their Minnesota schools and homes, Team Shuster had strong support in Italy, from family and fellow curlers (many of which feel like both), to Coach Lukowich.
Lukowich is from Calgary, Alberta and has been the National Olympic Coach of USA Curling since 2001. He works with all the elite USA curling teams and oversees the teams and their coaches at World Championships and the Olympics. Lukowich was there with Debbie McCormick when she won women’s gold in Winnipeg in 2003, or when Pete Fenson won Olympic bronze at Torino in 2006.
This time around, Team Shuster didn’t have an active coach, so Lukowich was asked to step in.
“We worked hard together in our pre-game meetings to get ready for each match, and they went out there with the confidence and determination to get a victory.”
Curling coaches aren’t as front-and-center as coaches of other sports—they work with the team behind-the-scenes and advise strategies pre-game, but it’s the curlers that take on the brunt of game-time pressure. After regular practices, league games, tournaments and “throwin’ rocks daily,” Team Shuster proved they could handle it.