Breakthough for NZ at Pan Continentals

Jess Smith, NZ v Kazakstan

Jess Smith in action against Canada this week. Photo © WCF / Steve Seixeiro

6 Nov 2022 – New Zealand's curlers have made history at the inaugural Pan Continental Championships in Calgary, Alberta. For the first time, New Zealand has qualified both a Men's and Women's side for their respective World Championships next year.

The Kiwi Men have played at five World Championships since their first appearance in 1999, most recently in 2012. But it will be the first-ever appearance for a New Zealand Women's side.

The Women's path to the World Championship is a sports story for the ages.

This was skip Jess Smith's first international event following successful cancer treatment in 2021. And just a month ago, the team was scheduled to be playing in the "B" event in Calgary, having competed at just one international tournament in the last five years. The late withdrawal of China saw them elevated to the main nine-team event where the top five would earn a ticket to the Worlds.

The side showed their grit and self-belief with a come-from-behind 8-6 victory over Hong Kong, and they clinched their fifth place and entry into the World Championship with a tense 10-7 win against Australia for a 4 win - 4 loss record.

"We played a lot better as a team there," said Jess Smith after the game. "And a trans-Tasman battle, we always want to be on the good side of that one! It makes that win special, but we're good mates with the Aussies."

"We just hope that qualifying [for the Worlds] will boost curling in New Zealand and get more people playing the sport that we love so much."

The New Zealand Men started their last round-robin game against Japan knowing that the winner would claim the final top-four spot to reach the tournament semi-finals, but that the loser would probably still finish fifth overall and so qualify for the World Championship. A poor start cost the Kiwis, but they were far from despondent after dropping the match 9-5.

"It's a big deal [qualifying for the World championships], especially as both the Men and Women have got there," said skip Anton Hood. "All the boys have been working hard for the start of the four-year [Olympic] cycle, and we're pretty chuffed. I think we've given everyone we've played a decent run."

2006 Olympian, Hans Frauenlob, puts curling facilities as a key factor towards international success.

"Most of NZ Men's side through the lead-up to our qualification for the Turin Winter Olympics learned to curl overseas," he said when interviewed on NewstalkZB. "But the opening of the dedicated Naseby rink in 2005 was a game-changer for New Zealand Curling."

"For the first time next year, we'll be sending young teams to a World Championship who have all learned to play here. Most of them are in their 20s and have had the rink almost in their backyard. And that's provided them the opportunity to regularly get great coaching, to practice, and to dedicate themselves to a game that they love – and now we're seeing the result of that."

The core of the Kiwi sides in Calgary have come through the Junior ranks in the last few years, and the improvement in results from 2017 to 2019 at the World Junior 'B' events – culminating in the Junior Men's 2019 gold medal and promotion to the 'A' event – are testament to that hard work.

The Women's World Curling Championship 2023 takes place in Sandviken, Sweden in March. The Men's World Championship will be hosted in Ottawa, Canada in April.