April 17th, 2021

Drawing from the bubble

By Dale Woodard on March 3, 2021.

Team Alberta second Taylor McDonald sweeps as skip Laura Walker makes a shot at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts last week in Calgary.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

LETHBRIDGE HERALDsports@lethbridgeherald.com

Taylor McDonald has emerged from the bubble.

And the product of Lethbridge who throws second stones for Laura Walker’s Team Alberta rink did so as one of the last teams standing at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary last week.

McDonald and her rink from the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton, which also consists of third Kate Cameron, lead Rachel Brown, alternate Dana Ferguson and coach Shannon Pynn, advanced to the semifinals Sunday afternoon before falling to the eventual — and repeat — champion Kerri Einarson of Team Canada in the first curling bubble event held due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Though McDonald and her team came within one game of a championship final berth against Ontario’s Rachel Homan, the local product welcomed the chance to compete in the first bubble event with the Tim Horton’s Brier — starting Friday — next on the slate.

“We have such fond memories of last week and I’m missing it already,” said McDonald, whose team went 5-3 in the round-robin and 4-0 in the playoffs. “Obviously, there were a lot of challenges being in the bubble and not getting to see friends and family during a really long, stressful week. But at the same time, Curling Canada pulled off a phenomenal event that was completely safe, with tonnes for protocols and the event itself was world class. It was top-notch.”

As of Monday afternoon, McDonald was back home in Edmonton — where she has lived for nearly 10 years — unwinding from the unique event which was the only event on her team’s schedule due to the pandemic.

“I’m taking the day to relax and get my body back to normal,” said McDonald. “Otherwise, our season is pretty much over. It started and ended with the Scotties this year. That was our only event. So now we get to be on hold until the next season starts up.”

However, they ended their season on a busy note.

Potentially facing three games on the final day of the Scotties Sunday, Team Alberta edged Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones 9-8 in the Sunday morning tiebreaker.

“I think we knew there was a lot on the line,” said McDonald. “But we were pretty confident going into the game that we could pull it off. We were all running on very little sleep that day and doing the best we could to keep each other energized, especially with no fans in the building. But we stayed really patient. It wasn’t exactly going our way the first half of that game. We stayed patient and we started to string shots together and we were pretty gritty by the end of it.”

However, a spot in the final — and the third game in one day — wasn’t in the cards as Einarson pulled away to notch a 9-3 win.

“I think we got a little fooled by the ice and a little bit of our fatigue from the week was setting in,” said McDonald. “We just ran out of a bit of steam. I think we all had a few shots we would have liked to have back from that game. But otherwise, we actually hung in there for a quite a while and had some good things going for us the first few ends. Obviously, Team Canada pulled away and made a lot less misses than we did.”

In the face of a demanding schedule, McDonald said her team leans on each other for support.

“We’re always there for each other to make sure everyone is staying focused. I think a little bit of adrenaline kicks in at that time, too. So when you’re feeling tired and your body is fatigued you’re running on a bit adrenaline to keep you going. But we’re big believers of one shot at a time and one end at a time and not looking too far ahead.”

That’s something their mental skills coach has instilled in them.

“Shannon has done a lot of work with us and it’s something we’ve really embraced as a team, just one end at a time and trying to win each little mini-game or end,” said McDonald. “It keeps us in the present and keeps us focused on what we have to do in the moment and not looking too far ahead or getting stuck on things that have already happened.”

Playing in a bubble also meant playing in front of a bunch of cardboard cutouts instead of actual fans with the event sealed off to the public as per pandemic protocol.

The cardboard cutouts weren’t as loud as normal fans, but McDonald said there was excitement in the air when the stones started to slide.

“I know all the athletes were incredibly thankful and happy to be back on the ice and doing what we love, so you could still feel the buzz in the air and around everyone else. But it was definitely quiet. We missed the fans. That’s one of the greatest part of the Scotties, having everyone cheering for you and, in this case, we would have been the hometown team. So we feel like we missed out on getting some Alberta support from within the bubble. But we did feel the love from outside the bubble with all the message from family and friends.”

Away from the ice during the week, McDonald said each player had their own room and was allowed to meet with the rest of their team after a series of COVID tests come back negative.

“At which point we were allowed to meet in one room, but we still had to stay six feet apart and wear masks even within our own unit,” she said. “A lot of days was waking up, having breakfast, trying to stay busy through most of the afternoon, either with work or a puzzle or something to stay a little bit stimulated and then we’d compete and go back to our rooms after. It was something to get used to the first few days, for sure. We’re used to a lot more activity and action, especially at the Scotties with friends and family around and lounge and all that good stuff. But we got used to it by the end. We were thankful for the downtime by the end of the week.”

Though they couldn’t feel the support from the fans rink side, they felt the suport from outside the bubble.

“I think it meant a lot,” said McDonald. “It kept us going for most of the week, that people were cheering us on from home and we loved getting the pictures of people in their Alberta gear and watching the games. We really appreciated all the support we got.”

McDonald and Walker have curled together for a number of years.

“Kate and I curled together prior to this team being formed. But this lineup has been together for two years now,” said McDonald. “We got really lucky that we have four amazing women on the team who all really enjoy each others company and really respect each other. Plus, they’re all phenomenal athletes.”

An Edmonton resident for nearly a decade, McDonald originally moved up north to attend university.

She now works there as a mortage broker.

However, she still feels the curling love from southern Alberta.

“There’s definitely a core group of people from the Lethbridge Curling Club that have always followed my career and have supported me,” said McDonald. “I love getting messages and knowing they’re keeping track of where I am. I really appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from Lethbridge.”

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