Team John Shuster and Team Tabitha Peterson cruised into the finals of the U.S. Olympic trials for men's and women's curling, finishing 9-1 during a round-robin tournament that ended Thursday. Their opponents, Team Korey Dropkin and Team Cory Christensen, had a little more drama along the way.
No matter who wins this weekend's best-of-three finals, one thing is certain: Several Minnesotans will represent the U.S. in both men's and women's curling at the Beijing Olympics. Team Shuster and Team Dropkin, who will play for the men's title, feature athletes from the Duluth and Bemidji areas. The Peterson and Christensen teams include curlers from Duluth and the Twin Cities.
The finals begin Friday at Baxter Arena in Omaha. The men will play at 5 p.m. and the women at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with the same schedule Sunday if necessary. NBCSN will televise the finals live.
In both the men's and women's finals, members of the 2018 Olympic teams will face teams skipped by younger opponents. Shuster's team returns three of the four men who won the 2018 Olympic gold medal, with Chris Plys of Duluth replacing Tyler George. Peterson and teammates Nina Roth and Becca Hamilton, plus alternate Aileen Geving, represented the U.S. at the Pyeongchang Games.
Shuster, 39, is trying to earn a fifth consecutive Olympic berth. Joe Polo, 38 — the eldest member of Dropkin's "Young Bucks" team — was an alternate for Shuster's 2018 Olympic squad and a member of the 2006 U.S. team that won Olympic bronze.
"We had a great round robin," Shuster said. "That gives us lots of confidence going into the finals."
The trials finalists were determined through a seven-day double round-robin tournament. Team Shuster rolled to the top seed on the men's side, winning its first eight matches by a combined score of 71-31. Team Dropkin ended the streak with a 6-1 victory Wednesday, after losing to Shuster 8-7 earlier in the tournament.
Dropkin, 26, rallied his team from a 3-3 start to finish the round robin with four consecutive victories. The team clinched the second spot in the finals Thursday, beating Team Scott Dunnam 6-3 in its last match.
"It's completion of goal one," Dropkin said. "It's getting yourselves to the next stage, on to the finals. It feels fantastic to pull off a really good end-of-the-week run. We're feeling good out there."
Team Peterson and Team Christensen both wrapped up the round robin with victories Thursday. Peterson's squad has won eight in a row heading into the finals, including 9-5 and 9-4 wins over Team Christenson.
Peterson's team earned the U.S. its berth at the Beijing Games by winning the bronze medal at this year's world championships. It was the first U.S. medal at the women's world championships in 15 years.
"Our first goal was to reach the finals," Peterson said. "Now, we just want to keep it rolling."