After losing the biggest college tournament of the year to University of Wisconsin-Superior back in November, Princeton Curling felt like we had something to prove—myself (as club president) especially. I was that junior curler who never quite won anything.

My competitive curling career was short, sweet, and not quite satisfying. For years, when I went to bonspiels (the affectionate term for a curling tournament), I was on a team that consistently lost over half of our games. It was not until junior year of high school that I won an event at any bonspiel. After this surprising success (my teammates were much younger than me, and much newer curlers), I was picked up to join a Youth Olympics Trials team. At the YOG trials, we lost the final by a single point, but having never expected to end up in the final in the first place, I was undeterred. I joined a girls’ team, we won regionals by a landslide, and I started preparing for U18 Nationals. Then COVID canceled Nationals.

But I already had another plan brewing. In January 2020, I was connected through a mutual curling friend to another early Princeton admit, curler Nelson Rogers. Although we were high schoolers, we video called Dean Deas and discussed how to write up the curling club constitution for our future ODUS-recognized Student Group. I distinctly remember editing a paper copy of the constitution in the girls’ locker room at the Schenectady Curling Club during my last pre-COVID spiel. We sent in our constitution in July 2020, pretty much immediately after we received our NetIDs and were eligible to initiate a student group. We defended our club virtually by the Student Group Recognition Committee in September 2020, and—only a week after our defense—we received Student Group Recognition.

But again, due to COVID, it was not until the fall of 2021 that we could actually get onto the ice—and even then, things were complicated. We had no funding and thus solicited donations and rigorously fundraised to get ourselves to a tournament. A curling team has four players, although it is common to bring an alternate (or even two) to bonspiels. Nelson and I found two other undergrads, Brian Li and Jonathan Rosenberg, apparently the only people on campus who had ever curled before, and bought plane tickets and booked a single hotel room with our limited funding. Mid-November 2021, we found ourselves in Boston, MA, at the biggest college tournament of the year.

During the first game, I had to explain to Brian and Jonathan how to throw curling stones. Jonathan had attended one or two learn-to-curls in middle school, and Brian had curled now and again as a young child, but they hadn’t stepped foot on the ice in six or ten years respectively. With each of their shots during our first game, I walked them through the process out loud. Dominant foot goes in the hack, non-dominant foot steps on the slider. Be careful, it’s slippery! Lean on your stabilizer. Rock in the dominant hand. Rotate to 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock. Hips up, slider foot back, heel to toe, no further, slider foot forward, push your rock, rotate to 12 o’clock, gentle release! Pick up your slider. Go stand behind the hacks. Always watch your rock.

Brian fell over every time he threw a stone until halfway through the game. Nelson and I still remembered the mechanics of delivery, but having not been on the ice since March 2020, we were both more than rusty. We lost every game, but we were just thrilled to be there. We made two new friends, Isabelle from Bowdoin and Kelsey the MIT coach. As we checked out of our hotel, we used our club credit card, given to us by the university. It was declined, even though our fundraisers had earned enough for one room, two nights, in an inexpensive hotel. The same thing happened with our taxi rides to and from the curling club and the airport. Everything except the flights ended up getting charged to my personal debit card, which I’d gotten just before starting college. My parents sent me money as I waited six unnecessary months for full reimbursement.

By the beginning of the spring semester, we had applied for and received starter funding from the USG Projects Board. We understood at this point that we could not afford, logistically or financially, to purchase memberships at one of the two most local curling clubs, Plainfield Curling Club and Bucks County Curling Club. So we used the starter funding to buy curling brooms, grippers, sliders, a used pebbler, the sturdiest cart the Home Depot salesperson said they had, and a couple of wooden two-by-fours to serve as hacks.

Nelson and I rented a car for a day, and he drove us to New Hampshire to pick up a set of used rental curling stones which the Grand National Curling Club kindly rented to us at a reduced rate. We drove back to Princeton and carried the stones—42 lbs each—into the then-unused double squash courts in Dillon Gym. One night, we booked Baker Rink for a few hours; we thought it would be a good idea to bring half of the stones down to see how playing on hockey ice might go. All was well on our way to the rink. We threw stones and enjoyed the satisfying sound of granite hitting granite. The ice quality, for curling, was pretty abysmal, but we felt like we could make it work. After frantically trying to pry our two-by-fours out of the ice and finally finding a tool which could dig them out, we carried our stones back out of the arena and onto the street where we’d left our cart.

At the bottom of the hill, one of the wheels snapped off the cart.

(The current Editor-in-Chief of the Nass, Sierra Stern, happened to be walking by, and she laughed at the spectacle of two people trying to push a three-wheeled cart with 336 lbs of granite on it up Pyne Drive around 11 p.m.  on a Monday.)

I called everyone I knew with a car, but no one was available. Eventually we just decided to leave four of the stones on the rink and drag the cart up the hill in two trips. I pushed and Nelson walked backward pulling. After that we vowed only to bring the stones to the rink via car.

Almost every weekend between April 2022 to March 2023 that classes have been in session and we haven’t been at a tournament, one of our members—mostly Daniel Dudt—has driven our stones from Dillon to Baker Rink. The ice is often covered in snow and not Zamboni-ed, so we sometimes have to start practice by mopping the ice. Then we pebble—spray tiny droplets of hot water—the ice. Most curling clubs use ionized water, but we just fill up our pebbler with a red Solo cup filled at the bathroom sink (the pebbler is too big to fit in the sink). The pebbler is essentially a backpack with a nozzle at the end of a hose, which is on the right side. I’m a lefty, so every time I pebble, my uncoordinated right hand sprays the tops of my curling shoes.

Then we freeze our wooden hacks into the ice with some more hot water, before placing a rock on top of the hack to help freeze it in. The hack’s essentially a starting block before you throw a stone, so it shouldn’t move at all. Then, if I’m not too lazy, I’ll draw houses—targets—onto the ice with a sharpie. That’s four rings: a 2’ ring, a 4’ ring, an 8’ ring, and a 12’ ring. Sometimes I use a marked piece of yarn as a compass, but mainly I freehand it. Once the ice is set up, we play—or most of the time, teach.

By the end of last spring, we had achieved Sports Club status, which means that we had moved from ODUS to Campus Rec. This past year, we attended bonspiels in Philadelphia, Boston, Schenectady, Cape Cod, Bridgeport, and Utica. We also held a mini tournament in Philly against Penn and Villanova. I had a policy that anyone who wanted to attend a spiel could go, but we didn’t always have the right numbers. Luckily, we made friends at Yale, Bowdoin, and UConn who helped us fill out our teams.

We got to our spiels through dues, donations, and sheer willpower—and the graciousness of the curling community. We achieved free lodging by staying with the inimitable Kris King at Harvard, Kelsey Becker at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Henry Rogers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Lauren Kleinas (mom of an old curling teammate) at Cape Cod, and my own parents for the spiel in Bridgeport (my home curling club!). We achieved free transportation by borrowing cars from team members Daniel Dudt, Brian Li, Isla Xi Han, and Clover Zheng. Most college curling teams spend $5,000-$10,000 per year, but due to our extreme budgeting, we managed to spend under $3,000.

In order to qualify for Nationals, our gameplay at bonspiels racked up school points; the top 16 teams in the country with regard to points and a few other factors qualify for Nationals. This year’s Nationals roster was more East Coast-heavy than in previous years, as some of the Midwestern schools had more difficulty holding spiels this year than in past years. We qualified as #4 seed out of the 26 teams which had accrued verified points. Points are verified when you purchase a United States Curling Association (USCA) College membership, so there were a number of teams who did not accrue verified points because they knew they wouldn’t make the top 16 and therefore did not want to purchase a membership.

The teams at Nationals were (in order of rank) RPI, University Wisconsin-Stevens Point, University of Minnesota, Princeton, Harvard, Penn, Villanova, Penn State, Syracuse, Cornell, Bowdoin, MIT, RIT, University of Wisconsin-Superior, Hamilton, and University of Toledo. Our team and the U.S. Naval Academy team (which did not qualify for Nationals) were the only new teams on the College Curling tour this year.

Nationals were held in Bowling Green, Ohio on Team Toledo’s home ice, the Black Swamp Curling Center. Our Nationals Team consisted of myself (Lara Katz ‘24), Daniel Dudt *23, Brian Li ‘24, and Matthew Benton ‘26. We talked about holding tryouts for Nationals, but the team ended up being determined solely on availability. We couldn’t even field an alternate, let alone two, unlike most of the other colleges in attendance. If one of our four players could not make a game for any reason, we would automatically forfeit that game (unlike at bonspiels, where the legal minimum number of players is three—something we have certainly taken advantage of when a player is late, sick, or has to drop out last-minute for another reason!).

Matthew started curling in October 2022, and Brian essentially started curling at the November 2021 bonspiel in Boston, though he wasn’t able to get back onto the ice again until April 2022, when we started curling out of Baker Rink.

Daniel, on the other hand, faces a curling redemption arc longer than my lifetime. He comes from a curling dynasty (his sister, Susan Dudt, used to be the skip of my girls’ team, and was known among junior girls as the best player anyone in our region had ever seen.) Daniel competed at Junior Nationals throughout high school but never medaled. Like me, he also went to the Youth Olympic Trials but lost the final. He attended men’s nationals the past four years in a row but also never medaled. He went to Mixed Doubles Nationals with Susan in 2021 but lost the playoffs. He even competed in the Men’s Olympic Trials in 2022. Because of Daniel’s experience, we decided to have him throw the last stones of each end, even though I would skip the team. There were two reasons for my skipping: Firstly, I know the teams—both my own and other schools’—better than Daniel, and secondly, Daniel is a far better sweeper than me (skips don’t sweep much).

Daniel has had a long, formidably impressive curling career, but he has never achieved a medal at a USCA National Championship Event. Yet when we stepped off the ice after our first morning practice at College Nationals, Daniel said to me, “I’m pretty sure we could beat any team here.”

I did not believe him. Not only had we lost a game at Utica to the lowest-ranked team at the event, Hamilton, but I had put together a large spreadsheet before the event, in which I calculated the statistical likelihood of any given college team winning in their pool, making it to the semifinals (all teams would play in the quarterfinals, but then half would be eliminated), and making it to a given finals bracket (gold medal, bronze medal, consolation, and consolation runner-up). My predictions were based on schools’ win-loss records, how many teams they tended to send to bonspiels (schools with multiple teams were likely to spread their strongest players across multiple teams, but put them all on the same team for Nationals), and their reported points. In only one out of eight scenarios did Princeton make it past the quarterfinals, and in that scenario we had a fifty-fifty chance of winning the Consolation Event.

Our first pool play match was against the University of Minnesota, and we lost. Team Minnesota, who play out of the five-sheet Four Seasons Curling Club and receive sponsorships from Dakota Curling Supplies and Endgame Curling, were one of the friendliest teams at the event. Vice McKenna Green even joined us for our iconic warm-up moves before every game. The team were strong communicators—two of them were married, so that’s a good sign—and they threw well. We didn’t play badly ourselves and the game was close, but there were a few mistakes we couldn’t come back from. Brian was especially nervous throughout the game, at one point appearing to trip on air and flinging his broom into the rock I was throwing (called “burning the rock”), which meant the rock had to be taken out of play. He was fine, luckily, but he told us he didn’t hit his head so many times that we started to wonder if he actually had.

Our second game was against Hamilton, who had all dressed for the occasion in onesies. Every team at Nationals (except Cornell, lol) had some kind of uniform, whether jackets, hoodies, or shirts, but Hamilton had taken things a step further. We fought a dragon and a shark that game, but the tigers came out on top. Hamilton is coached by MJ Walsh, a Professor Emerita at Colgate who runs the College Curling Association.

Our third game was against Harvard, coached by former junior and college curler Evan Mullaney. A photo of Evan’s face was once stamped on a rock at the Schenectady Curling Club as a gag by his teammates, and his face remained on that rock for a number of years. When I saw him at the 2021 Broomstones Spiel, after having met him many years prior at a junior bonspiel, all I said was, “It’s you again, the rock-face-man!” (not a peak social skills moment for Lara). Team Harvard fought long and hard, and for much of the game, they were winning. In the seventh end, though, we managed to pull back into a tie by scoring three—we had a chance for four points, but Daniel’s stone ended up going too far to count.

And Princeton did not have the hammer (last shot advantage) in the eighth end. We put guards in front of the house (non-scoring, protective stones) to put our stones behind, but Harvard had more scoring rocks in the house. Daniel described a hit-n’-roll shot to me that conceptually made sense but in reality did not. I think I said, “Totally, totally, the shot is so there.” Brian’s mom took a video of this game-changing shot, and you can hear the people behind the glass calling the shot “a good effort” while the rock’s still coming down the ice. When it hits, rolls, and bounces off another rock to sit in the center of the house, my whole team—with the exception of Daniel—is shocked. I cover my mouth and Brian and Matthew’s mouths hang open. But when Daniel comes down the ice, all he says is, “Don’t act surprised when I make the shot as called.”

After the game, due to a booking snafu courtesy of myself, we had to leave our Airbnb and move to a hotel. Inconvenience aside, the hotel was next to a Waffle House, where we celebrated having officially made it to the top half of our pool, slated for the Championship bracket instead of the Consolation bracket.

That night, our third game of Saturday, we played RPI in the quarterfinals. The team was skipped by a guy who had not only dressed as Puss in Boots for the Schenectady spiel (which was Shrek-themed) but is also the owner of two real-life sugar gliders. At the Schenectady spiel, we told the RPI team we wanted to go to an RPI party. They told us RPI has no parties, only functions, and took us to a bowling alley. Perhaps it is in character, then, that the team played uncharacteristically poorly and was forced to forfeit the match three-quarters of the way through: the skip’s grandmother told me her grandson always loses if he has to play after 8 p.m.

The next morning, after a Daylight Savings-shortened night of sleep, we returned to the ice for the semifinals against University of Wisconsin-Superior. Having been defeated by this same team back in November, we felt like we had something to prove. We played well, but ultimately, I think we won on strategy. After a uniquely strong showing in the pre-game draw shot challenge, we began the game with hammer. The first two ends were blanks—no score—so we kept the hammer. We gave up the hammer in the third end after scoring two, and then stole one point in the fourth end. After the half-time break, we started to play more aggressively. By the end of the seventh end, we were up by five. Although there was still another end to go and team UW-Superior was not mathematically eliminated, scoring six points in a single end is an unusual feat for a team who has only scored one end out of seven, and they chose to forfeit. With that, we made it to the gold medal game.

The University of Pennsylvania curling team is small but mighty. Skip Sophie Legler, originally from Montréal, Canada, is a former junior curler. Vice William Muldowney, a graduate student, previously curled at RPI with Evan Mullaney. I’ve never seen more than the same four Penn players at bonspiels—plus Sophie’s mom, the team’s coach, who attends almost every spiel as well. Going into the game, we were intimidated by Sophie’s impressive college curling record, but once the game began, we understood that it was not just Sophie, but the whole team who knew what they were doing. Will was sweeping so hard I overheard him say his hand was cramping up.

My team was all exhausted by this sixth two-hour-plus game of the weekend, and our shots were not as precise as they’d been in the previous two games. Although we kept things interesting and stayed close behind Penn in the score, in the end, we couldn’t quite pull it off. Nevertheless, no one deserved the gold as much as Penn: Both Will and Sophie graduate this year, and Penn had never won Nationals before (although they’ve come close). But this year they defeated last year’s champions, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, in the quarterfinals. In fact, they didn’t lose a game the whole weekend, while we had lost a pool play game to Minnesota, who ended up in fourth place behind UW-Superior, who got the bronze—and yet they were always classy about it.

Moreover, it felt good to have two out of the four teams skipped by women in the finals. Curling is a male-dominated sport, including at the college level. Hamilton was the only majority non-male team at the entire event, and they lost every single game. Although biological sex matters less in curling than in many other sports, size and strength can contribute to sweeping and the ability to throw heavy-weight shots. Assuming the same quality of technique, I will always sweep less effectively than someone who is bigger than me. It is arguably easier for females to get lower on the ice while throwing, which hypothetically can help with accuracy, but this does not seem to be a major concern in reality, given that five-time Brier-winning Brad Gushue has a relatively upright delivery.

Because college curling is co-ed (not “mixed,” which is a technical term denoting something different), representing all genders on the college curling tour should be a priority, and I am proud that Sophie and I were able to represent women curlers in the championship final this weekend. We learned so much, and taking home the silver represented not only the culmination of our hard work these past few years but also the beginning of a redemption arc for Daniel, myself, and all of Princeton curling. Let’s just hope we can recruit some great players from the class of ’26, ’27, and early-stage grad students to keep it up next year.