Harrison Hruby brought his curling shoes to Lincoln, just in case.
The Bismarck, North Dakota, native had been introduced to the sport in middle school and played throughout high school at the town’s local curling club. But when he enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he wasn’t sure whether he would have an opportunity to continue competing.
He was happy to learn soon after making the move that Nebraska does indeed have a curling team, and a good one at that — the team is coming off a second-place finish at last year’s national championships in Utica, New York.
“It’s been awesome just to see how many people here are curious about the sport and want to play,” Hruby said earlier this week before a practice at the John Breslow Ice Hockey Center.
In curling, players slide stones on a sheet of ice toward a target area including four circles. Each team tries to get more of its stones closer to the center of the target than the other team.
If you watch the action during the Winter Olympics, you'll see the process of sweeping — yes, brooms are involved — and strategy.
Hruby, now a junior and president of the Nebraska Curling Club, says he feels Nebraska is in good position to return to the national championships this year, as it has every year since the club’s formation in 2007. The group got a boost from last weekend’s second-place finish in the Nebraska College Bonspiel in Omaha and is currently third in the national point standings, behind No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 1 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Nebraska hosted the tournament along with curling teams from Creighton and Wayne State, which is 12th in the national point standings. Nebraska was edged out by No. 4 Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the final.
In addition to competing in a handful of tournaments specifically for college teams, Nebraska also competes weekly in the Aksarben Curling League in Omaha, which runs from late October through mid-March.
So yeah, there’s plenty of curling going on to keep Hruby happy.
“It’s just a lot of fun because you’re playing mostly with people from around your town or area, and that’s what is appealing to me and a lot of other people in the sport,” Hruby says. “It’s very much a social sport.”
Logun Gunderson has also been pleased with the interest in curling locally. The Wausau, Wisconsin, native curled for his high school team, and has found Lincoln to be as good a place as any to keep competing.
“When I was looking at different colleges, the fact that Nebraska had a curling team was definitely a factor for me coming here,” Gunderson said. “There’s definitely a good number of people interested in the sport here, more than I originally thought there would be, and I’ve enjoyed it.”
But for every experienced curler like Hruby and Gunderson, there are several more who have almost no knowledge of the sport before signing up to join the curling club when they get to college. Not a problem, Hruby says.
“I would say it’s almost all new people, which is pretty common in college curling,” he said. “It’s kind of on the lower end of the competitive scale, I guess, which ends up making it a ton of fun. And most people, if they’re good about coming to practice regularly, they have a pretty good handle on everything after three or four weeks.”
Added Gunderson: “You fall in love with it right away. It’s definitely more of a mental game, and that appealed to me quite a bit. It’s fun for that reason, and since it’s a little bit smaller, the curling community is pretty close and I like that part of it as well.”
And while it’s not imperative to be an overly athletic person, Hruby said the sport does require certain attributes.
“Balance is huge,” he says. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of athleticism, but you do need to have pretty solid leg muscles, and flexibility is huge too.”
Hruby and Gunderson say they think the sport will continue to grow in the area, especially after the team trials for the Winter Olympics were held in Omaha in November. The Nebraska team paid close attention to the event and even was able to spend some time on the same ice as the Olympians during the trials.
“Just having that event in Omaha I think helped generate a lot of interest here and it gets a lot of new people into the game,” Gunderson said.