College curling teams chase national points in Falmouth

FALMOUTH – You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to appreciate curling. But maybe it helps.

Greg Dooley is looking to compete in the USA Curling College Championships for the fourth straight year – while earning a Ph.D in astrophysics from MIT.

“Curling gets me out of Cambridge and is a really fun activity. It’s social and I get to meet up with friends. I come back to school on Mondays feeling refreshed,” he says. “But I also like the strategy that is involved. There is a good amount of thinking about where you place the stone, how you’re going to call the sweep, and the communication back-and-forth with each other. Once you’ve curled for a while you realize how important all that is.”

See a photo gallery from Saturday’s competition

Dooley made the journey with his teammates Saturday to the Cape Cod Curling Club in Falmouth to compete against five other colleges in a one-day bonspiel. Matches began at 8:30 a.m. and lasted until 4:30 p.m. as teams vied to accumulate merit points that could send them on to next month’s nationals in Minnesota. Also participating were teams from Bowdoin College, RPI, Yale, Harvard and Boston University.

The event was hosted for the third straight year by Bowdoin, even though team members had one of the longest commutes at more than four hours. But traveling great distances is not uncommon for competitors who have become hooked by a sport that most people see only when the Winter Olympics roll around every four years.

Many of the same schools who were in Falmouth will head to Utica, N.Y., next weekend for a bonspiel. In a season that began in October and ends later this month, these collegiate curlers will compete across the Northeast.

“These kids are amazing,” said Bill Gallagher, a Cape Cod Curling member who helped organize Saturday’s event. “We donate the ice time, but they coordinate everything as far as getting the schools here.”

As a club sport, none of the teams have official coaches. Instead, the more experienced curlers serve as team leaders.

In curling, a player slides a heavy stone down a long sheet of ice as teammates use brooms to sweep the ice, thus causing the stones to curve or curl toward a circular scoring target. Sixteen stones are thrown in each round, which is called an end. Points are awarded at the conclusion of the end, depending on which team’s stone or stones is closest to the scoring area, called the house.

Teams earned two points for each match win at Saturday’s bonspiel, with the losing team collecting one point. Total team points for a season that ends in mid-February will determine the 16 teams that qualify for the nationals.

Bowdoin entered this weekend’s completion ranked third nationally, while RPI was tied for first. Yale, Harvard, BU and MIT were all within the top 16 heading into the weekend, but none were yet assured of a trip to Minnesota.

“We’re on the bubble,” said Dooley, whose MIT team is ranked 14th. “This weekend and next weekend are very important. We need to play well and win some games.”

Curling remains something of a niche sport, even on campuses that field teams. None of the schools competing on Saturday have more than 20 members in their program, while MIT has just seven this year and Harvard sent only three curlers to Falmouth.

But those that compete are devoted to a sport that many started playing only in the past few years.

“I began curling when I came upon a learn-to-curl program at Yale. I was hooked from day one,” said Allison Goldberg.

A Phoenix native, Goldberg is studying for her Ph.D in pharmacology, yet she finds the time most weekends to attend bonspiels.

“It’s a really welcoming sport,” she said. “You can start at nothing and work your way up. Everyone you meet is so enthusiastic. It’s definitely an up-and-coming sport at Yale.”

Bowdoin teammates Silas Domy and Lauren Bostick organized Saturday’s bonspiel. Most bonspiels run through the entire weekend, but a lack of available ice time limited Saturday’s competition to one day. Therefore, games that can last up to 2 1/2 hours were reduced from eight ends to six, and a championship round had to be scrapped.

“It’s a less stressful event without the finals, but it’s still fun,” Domy said. “Everybody is still looking to accumulate points to qualify for the nationals. It’s a really nice environment here, but we’re competing and we want to win.”

Still, there are unlikely to be any dust-ups at a bonspiel.

“Curling is a pretty social sport,” Bostick says. “We have these weekends when we compete, and then we have lunch and dinner together. But the competition can get intense.”

Domy, a government and environmental studies major, calls curling “psychological chess.”

“There are just a million combinations of what can happen,” he said. “There are a lot more variables than in other sports.”

This much seems certain: Curling demands commitment. Bowdoin doesn’t have a curling rink on campus, so the team drives 90 minutes to Belfast, Maine, for practices and home competitions. They figured to make it back on campus after Saturday’s bonspiel at around 9 p.m.

“But after our success this year we’re gaining something of a following,” Domy says. “It’s pretty cool, actually.”

Originally posted on with photos