Oh, baby, it's good to be back

Courtesy of Cassie Potter

Skips determine a lot of strategy for their teams, so staying level-headed on the ice is imperative.

At last! We have entered the curling season. These are the final weeks (10 to go!) before the Olympic trials. Every day is an opportunity to improve and be the best curler I can be come November. And I’m not the only one stepping it up. "No regrets" seems to be the theme ringing out this year among curlers from all over.

And what a year it has been so far with competitions, camps, training and practice.

I started last season three months’ pregnant, traveling and competing alongside my teammates, and never far from my Tums. But at the culmination of last season I was home, not on the ice for the 2013 U.S. national championships -- only the third time I haven’t competed in a national championship since 1998. So I got my curling fix by scouring the Internet for every international match I could find, and then I nervously watched the Webstream of my team’s games at the U.S. national championships while my husband and I patiently waited for our new daughter to arrive.

Courtesy of Cassie Potter

Team Potter, which has qualified for the U.S. Olympic team trials, took part in a training camp in August in Blaine, Minn.

Wait, make that while we anxiously waited for our new daughter to arrive. The anticipation was about as much as I could handle, especially when baby takes after her mom -- er, me -- and ends up running a little late to everything. (Then again, I don’t blame her for wanting to wait out a bitterly cold Minnesota winter just a little bit longer.) I’m sure many of you moms (and dads) out there can relate to doing anything in those final days to stay busy and momentarily distract yourself from the suitcase sitting by the door and the empty car seat perfectly snug in the backseat. You checked them over a dozen times, too, didn’t you?

On the flip side, I’m pretty calm and collected on the ice. Patience is a necessary quality for a curling skip. Like a quarterback, skips call the shots, so we need to be levelheaded and mentally tough. I can’t step onto the ice frazzled by something negative in the press or worried about results from previous games. There’s a lot to focus on. It’s not just throwing rocks. We’re responsible for taking into account many factors during a game:

•  We “read” the ice: Does it run straight? Does it swing? At what point does the rock break and really curl? Do we need to watch for frost? How much curl does it take to get the rock to the button? How much force does it take to get the rock to the tee-line?
•  We need to account for the current score: Are we up? Are we behind? Do we have hammer (last rock)? What end are we in? Do we keep hammer in even ends, so we can have the advantage at the end of the game? Should we throw guards or play it open?
•  We also analyze our opponents and their abilities: Who is throwing right now? How do they play the first few ends? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
•  We watch for changes throughout the game: Is the ice getting slower, straighter, flatter?

In short, skips have to be good at analyzing and reacting to every bit of information that we can pull together in a very short amount of time (games are timed), and at determining how we will proceed. Do we play defensively or offensively? Do we go for the steal, blank the end, hold the other team to one or take two? One of my main goals as skip is to put our team in position to control the house. And if that doesn’t happen, we need to adapt quickly and know when to remedy the situation.

I’m used to having a strategy and being in control. So when my little girl decided it was time to finally make her arrival, I was definitely nervous. There I was in a situation where I had little to no control over the what, when, where and how. I didn’t have any kind of plan, but everything went fine and we are blessed with a happy little girl.

I can easily say that this season is one of the most aggressive and earliest starts I have ever had. The stakes are high and the bar is being raised every year in the sport of curling. I love it. It challenges everyone to be even better. And it makes me excited for curling’s future. I expect there will be some exceptional curling over the next few months. And I will be ready and look forward to it -- with patience and much excitement.

*Note: I just realized I threw a lot of curling jargon at you, so if you are scratching your head, wondering what a hogged rock is, what a biter is or what it means to be heavy, here’s a great glossary of terms.