Raising her game: Ashley Sippala excels at Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Ashley Sippala
Ashley Sippala, second for Team McCarville, represented Northern Ontario at the 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, placing second overall. When Sippala isn’t training for elite curling bonspiels or competing, she works as a lab technician at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. (Photo Credit: William Vavrek Photography)

Ashley Sippala is an expert at drawing blood as a lab technician, and has been working at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) for the past four years. Outside of work, her real passion is drawing stones into the rings on the curling rink. This past February, Sippala represented Northern Ontario, with Team McCarville out of the Fort William Curling Club. They had a very impressive second place finish at Canada’s premiere women’s curling bonspiel, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Among a field of headline names, like Jennifer Jones and Marie-France Larouche, there were also many new faces at the event this year. Sippala, who plays second, was excited to play in her second Scotties (she played second for Team McCarville in 2010 when they placed third overall, and played fifth in 2009). “I started curling when I was 9 years old, and have been competing since I was 14. It’s part of my dream to compete at the Scotties. My ultimate goal is to win the Scotties, but winning the Olympics would be amazing too.”

Popularity and support for Team McCarville at this year’s Scotties didn’t just come from the echoes of moose calls from their fans (a tradition for teams from Northern Ontario) or their curling royalty entourage (Lorraine [coach] and Rick Lang), it came from their grit and work ethic which helped them to make several comebacks to win. “We didn’t start out most of our games the way we wanted, but we worked hard and didn’t give up and that got us the wins we needed,” she says. “This year we were very committed. We started working out in the summer, and it’s made a huge difference to our game which really helped us at the Scotties.“

In recent years, curling’s reputation as a sport has really progressed. Gone are the days of beer bellies and heavy knit sweaters, and here are the days of physical fitness as the sport has evolved from relying on a shooter’s finesse and accuracy to relying more on high energy power sweeping that can actually affect how the rock curls. With games lasting approximately three hours each, curlers need to be in good physical shape because at a major bonspiel there could be 14 games where their sweeping needs to be excellent to win. Quick math tells us that a second, like Sippala, could sweep up to 840 rocks in just one bonspiel (10 ends per game, six rocks per end)!

On being asked about the sport’s evolution with sweeping strategy and broom technology, Sippala says, “Curling has changed. The directional sweeping has become so important in curling. Shot percentages are much higher now because sweepers are so good. While the game is progressing so quickly, the integrity of the sport needs to be maintained which is why there have been so many rule changes.”

Despite the glory of being featured on TSN for a full week, and finishing second overall on one of the sport’s biggest stages, Sippala’s favourite part about curling is spending time with her teammates. “I love spending time with my team. We’re the best of friends and really enjoy each other’s company. Other teams don’t have that same closeness like we do. Then, of course, the competitiveness and dedication makes curling fun too.”

Currently, Team McCarville is ranked 9th in Canada and they have no plans of slowing down. They continue to workout daily, and practice on the ice five times per week. They have competed in seven events this season, and have won four. With all of the time that is required to travel and compete as an elite curler, Sippala thanks her Supervisor and Manager at TBRHSC. “They have always been so supportive of me, and I am so grateful and appreciative that they allow me to take the time off to compete.”

You can cheer on Team McCarville again soon as they were invited to compete at the Champions Cup at the end of April in Sherwood Park, AB. Hopefully there we’ll see them play Team Carey (who won the Scotties) in a rematch where they’ll sweep them out of the house.