Like her younger bother Nicholas, Anna Cenzalli will be playing in curling’s Under-18 National Championships in Wausau, Wisconsin, in March.
But the siblings took strikingly different paths to get there. Whereas Nicholas and the rest of Team Hebert were never really challenged until their win in the championship game of the GNCC U18 Playdowns, Anna and her team struggled, qualifying for Nationals only after winning a tiebreaker on the final day.
Anna, who had her sights set on the girls’ GNCC U18 title, was disappointed in her team’s showing, but believes it can draw a valuable lesson from the experience. “We definitely have a lot to learn,” she said.
Team Cenzalli—which also includes vice skip Diana Black, second Odessa Howera and lead Jane Kobylinski—got off to a rocky start at playdowns when it dropped its first game. The team bounced back nicely with three wins in a row that put it in a tie for first in the four-team field (teams played opponents twice in the round robin format).
But then things went south. Team Cenzalli dropped the next two games and found itself tied for second place with a team skipped by Addison Neill. Team Cenzalli, forced to play a tiebreaker with Team Neill, was in serious danger of missing out on the second GNCC berth at Nationals. A team skipped by Alina Tschumakow had clinched the GNCC title.
The 9-5 loss to Team Tschumakow that put Team Cenzalli in the tiebreaker game was especially hard on Anna. “We basically imploded,” Anna said. “It kept getting worse and worse and worse. My mom could tell I was in my own little bubble.”
Anna’s mom, Lyn Cenzalli, confirmed Anna’s take on the situation. “I could see the hurt on her face,” she said.
Anna admitted she had a crisis in confidence, and it affected her teammates. “I put too much pressure on myself,” she said. “Every shot [my teammates] miss, I miss.”
Anna was down after that game, but those around her were having none of it. She was bombarded with positive reinforcement, including sage advice from her mother. “‘I told her, ‘You go and you be you, and the rest will follow,’” Lyn said.
The pep talks hit home. Anna woke up the next day confident and ready to play.
“We had a team meeting,” Anna said. “I asked them if they wanted to go to Nationals. We held each other...then went out on the ice.”
And turned in a convincing 9-3 win over Team Neill that broke the tie and put Team Cenzalli in the U18 Nationals.
Despite her newfound confidence and the final score, Anna showed the mindset of a true skip when she said of her opponent in the tie-breaking game, “I wasn’t comfortable at any point. They’re young, they’re good....There was no point where I said, ‘We got this.’”
So it’s on to Wausau. Team Cenzalli has two months to prepare for Nationals.
“I told her, ‘What you learned here this weekend will take you a long way. Learn it now. Really talk to your teammates,’” Lyn said.
Said Anna, “We’re going to Nationals...it’s all pieces of the puzzle. I told my team, ‘Play your best, stay positive.’
“Anybody can beat anybody.”