|L-R: Peter Becker (coach), Jayden Apuwai-Bishop (Alternate), Hunter Walker (Lead), Ben Smith (3rd), Anton Hood (vice-skip, 4th), Matthew Neilson (skip, 2nd). Photo © WCF / Alina Pavlyuchik|
11 Jan 2019 - New Zealand Curling history was made in Lohja, Finland overnight when the NZ Men's side won the gold medal at the World Junior B championships.
With the medal came an entry to the full World Junior Championships in Canada next month – the first by any Kiwi side.
The team of Matthew Neilson, Anton Hood, Ben Smith, Hunter Walker, and Jayden Apuwai-Bishop beat Italy 8-4 in the final.
They qualified from their pool with a 5-2 win-loss record. They then defeated Russia 6-4 in their quarter-final, and stole an extra end to pip China 6-5 in the semi to earn their shot at the gold.
"The team is super excited," said ecstatic skip Matthew Neilson after their gold medal game. "We've put a lot of work in throughout the year. It's an unreal feeling to have progressed over the last four years and to take the gold. I'm very, very happy."
He continued, "Going to the worlds is huge, for New Zealand as well, being such a small country in curling. This is the first New Zealand team to go the [junior] worlds and we're ecstatic about it. It pays off - all that training we've put in over the last year."
Coach Peter Becker was also full of praise for his side. "The boys started slowly with a couple of losses but quickly gained in confidence," he said, "with some exceptional shotmaking, they got on a roll defeating most of the powerhouse curling countries here. They thoroughly deserve all the kudos they receive. A great performance from some talented young men."
China won the Men's bronze to make up the top three sides to qualify for the World Junior Championships.
The NZ Junior Women reached the semi-finals last year but just failed to qualify for the playoff games this time around. They lost their last "winner-takes-all" pool game 6-5 to Poland, and finished 4th in their pool with a 3 win - 3 loss record. Scotland, Germany, and Poland advanced to the playoffs from the Kiwi women's group.
It was Scotland who went on to win the women's gold medal, with Russia and Japan securing the other medals and their place at the full World Junior Championships.
NZ Junior curlers ready for next level
|NZ Junior Women's team in Helsinki. Photo © nzu21womenscurling on Instagram|
30 Dec 2018 – While the rest of the country enjoys summer, New Zealand's best young curlers have packed their bags and headed for sub-zero temperatures and 6 hours of daylight in Lohja, Finland.
They are preparing for the World Junior B Championships, where a top-three finish will earn them entry to February's 2019 World Junior Championships in Canada.
The Kiwi sides narrowly missed out at the same tournament in January 2018. The NZ Women lost the bronze medal game to Norway 5-4, while the Men reached the quarterfinals.
With the core of both sides returning, they are keen to make the step up.
"We have been training hard and all the girls have been 100% committed," said Women's skip Jessica Smith. "All we can do now is believe in ourselves and play the way that we know we can."
"We are looking for that top 3 spot so that we can play in Canada. But as long as we can say we gave it our best shot I think we will all be happy."
The NZ Women's side is Jessica Smith (skip), Holly Thompson, Courtney Smith, Mhairi-Bronté Duncan and Lucy Neilson, with coach Nelson Ede. The Kiwi Men are Anton Hood, Ben Smith, Matthew Neilson (skip), Hunter Walker and Jayden Apuwai-Bishop. They are coached by Peter Becker.
The tournament will run from 3 to 10 January.