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Pursuit: Sudbury curler Lauren Rajala heads back to Switzerland

For the second time in her young curling career, Rajala representing Canada at one last junior curling event
For the second time in her still young curling career, Sudbury rock-thrower Lauren Rajala has earned a trip to Switzerland by virtue of her prowess on the ice. 

For the second time in her still young curling career, Sudbury rock-thrower Lauren Rajala has earned a trip to Switzerland by virtue of her prowess on the ice. 

And the second time might be even more unexpected than the first.

In January of 2020, the then senior at Lasalle Secondary School was not only named to the Team Canada delegation that would travel to Lausanne to compete against some of the best in the world, but was also bestowed the honour of carrying the flag into the opening ceremonies.

Fast forward four years and her women’s open curling team that includes Emma Artichuk, Tori Zemmelink, Kailee Delaney and Rajala are now a year removed from junior curling eligibility, in Canada at least.

And therein lies the stickler.

With Curling Canada having moved to a schedule where the 2024 junior (U20) champions will attend the 2025 Worlds (U21) to represent the country, the fact remains that Team Artichuk are technically still age-eligible for international junior events, such as the recent WFG Canadian Junior Cup in Oshawa.

“It was nice to get in one last junior event, if only because with COVID and things, we kind of lost some events,” said Rajala, a few days removed from her team besting the Allory Johnson rink 7-2 in the final, rewarded with a berth in a bonspiel in Bern (Switzerland) taking place from Feb. 23-25.

“It was nice to play in something like that,” added the fourth-year student in Forensic Sciences at Laurentian University. “I didn’t realize that this event was open to us when we were forming our team.”

Equally as important for this completely new quartet is the fact that the WFG tournament marked something of a watershed moment for the team, which has faced the same challenges that so many athletes making the jump from junior to open ranks have faced.

“This is the first year for all of us out of juniors; it was a bit of a reality check,” said Rajala. “I won’t lie – we struggled a bit. We just weren’t quite getting there, we weren’t quite getting the wins. But we could feel that we were getting closer and closer.”

In Oshawa, however, Team Artichuk steamrolled their way through the post-Christmas event, rolling over Katelin Langford (6-3), Julia Pekowitz (11-3), Charlotte Johnston (5-3), Madison Onishke (8-5) and Isabel Einspieler (4-3), from Switzerland, en route to the final. 

“This event was finally the event where it kind of switched for us,” said Rajala. “We kind of turned it on. We had a couple of lineup changes at the beginning of the season.”

For a team that was already in transition — Rajala was playing with the Winnipeg-based Katie Lukowich rink at this time last year — the early fall would throw even more curveballs than expected. Katie Shaw had to step away, with Kailee Delaney sliding in, while Zemmelink made the move from skip to lead, but continues to hold the broom when Artichuk throws last stones.

“I honestly think that we just needed to click as a team and have those hard conversations to figure out what we needed to do,” said Rajala, her team maintaining their recent hot streak by making it through the Scotties qualifier last weekend to earn a spot at provincials later this month.

“I think for people to be the best curler they can be, the best athlete they can be, they have to be open for what is best for the team,” she added. “It’s super important. That’s what makes a really strong team, being able to adapt. I think winning this event validated some of those early decisions.”

Throw in a whole variety of backgrounds in terms of their engrained beliefs on how the game should be played and one could see the need for a little patience as this new creation took form.

“Our team has come from very different strategic standpoints,” said Rajala. “We all had to find a game plan that we all agreed on. Once we were able to do that, everything started to click.”

The payoff has been – and will be – rewarding.

Their fully funded trip to Switzerland sees the team involved in a three-day bonspiel, but even a total of seven days as part of the cultural exchange component of this initiative.

It’s a trip that Lauren Rajala did not expect to make once, let alone twice in her curling career. 

Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.


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