More than 30 years had passed since a Sudbury team last attended the Scotties Tournament of Hearts when Tracy Horgan and company earned the right to represent Ontario at the 2012 national curling championships.
The Idylwylde quartet are hopeful the wait for a return visit won't be nearly as long.
The Northern Ontario Women’s Curling Association playdown is scheduled for Atikokan this weekend. Five teams will be vying for the four spots at the Ontario Scotties scheduled for Jan. 21-27 in Kitchener-Waterloo.
The Horgan Rink is the defending champ, hoping once again to represent Ontario at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Kingston, Ont., Feb. 16-24.
Horgan teamed with sister Jennifer Horgan, longtime playing partner Amanda Gates and Thunder Bay native Jenna Enge one year ago, following in the footsteps that Sheila (Seltzer) Ross blazed back in 1981.
Team Horgan upended the Rachel Homan rink from Ottawa 7-6 in Kenora, garnering the right to don the provincial colours at the Canadian championships in Red Deer (Alta).
"Once you've won, you kind of know what you have to do to win," said Gates after a recent team practice, as the three local ladies prepared to head to Atikokan for the Northern Ontario playdowns.
"We've had a chance to see what the teams at the next level are like," she added. "We understand that we have to be more like that in order to get back there again."
Step one in the process lies in picking up one of four slots up for grabs in the regional competition.
"There are good teams in the North, just not the quantity that are in the South," said skip Horgan.
In fact, fellow Scotties participant Krista McCarville headlines a field that also sees junior sensation Kendra Lilly, another Sudburian, make the jump to the open women's ranks, teaming with Courtney Chenier and a pair of new rinkmates from North Bay.
In preparation for what they hope will be an extended run, Team Horgan expanded their upper-end schedule, moving from their introduction to just one Grand Slam event last year to competing in all four of the series bonspiels over the past few months.
"We tried to step up the level of competition this year," said Horgan. "You're not going to win as many bonspiels, but you're playing the competition you need to play against."
Still, the team came through with strong performances in both Brockville and Bancroft, struggling a little more in the qualifiers in western Canada.
Facing a bevy of international talent and some of the best teams in the country has left little room for overconfidence in the eyes of vice-skip, Jennifer Horgan.
"All of the teams keep getting that much better every year, so you have to keep up with them or you are going to fall behind," she stated. "And our team does a really good job of playing in the moment.
"Honestly, in curling, you really do have to take it one step at a time," said Jennifer, the eldest of the two siblings.
The sisters have become household names in the Sudbury curling community.
"Our focus right now is just to get through Northerns," she added.
Yet the team has an increased confidence that is easy to detect, even more so on a team that struggled, at times, not to be intimidated when facing well-established opponents.
While they have no qualms about understanding they belong in the same league with Canadian women's curling elite, the Horgan crew maintain a healthy respect as they step on the ice.
"When you're playing against really tough teams, they really make you pay for your mistakes," said Tracy Horgan. "Against other teams, you might get away with it."
The lessons learned from their first trip to the nationals are now stored safely in their minds, looking to be unlocked at just the right moment to ensure a return visit at some point.
More than anything else, there is a comfort level with the overall approach of the team which was recently selected by the Canadian Curling Association as one of the "test groups" for a study on effective team dynamics.
"Different teams treat it differently," Gates suggested. "Some teams treat it like a business — your job is to curl. Other teams, like ours, are constantly laughing and joking. It's all about what works for your team."
Hard to argue with the success, to date, of Team Horgan.