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Former Barrhead curler helps bring national championship to Concordia University

Payton Sonnenberg and Concordia Thunder take home second CCAA championship medal in as many years

BARRHEAD - A former Barrhead resident is among the top collegiate curlers in the country.

In mid-March, Payton Sonnenberg helped Edmonton's Concordia University win the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Women's Curling Championship in Fredericton, playing third on the school's Thunder rink. The other rink members include lead Rachel Jost, second Brenna Bilassy, and skip Gabrielle Wood. Their coach is Tania Smiley.

It is the second year that Sonnenberg, a second-year Environmental Sciences Studies student, has been a part of the Thunder rink.

The championship is the first for Concordia University's women's curling program, but it is not the first time the Woman's Thunder rink has hit the podium at a CCAA national championship. Last year, after winning the provincial championship, the Woman's Thunder won bronze. Sonnenberg, Wood and Jost were also members of that team.

The Thunder qualified for the national championships by winning silver at the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) championships in Airdrie on Feb.23-25.

The Thunder finished the round-robin second in their division with a 5-2 record, setting them up for a semi-final matchup against Ontario's Humber College, which they won 7-4, which set them up for the finals against provincial rival the SAIT Trojans, eventually beating them 8-5 after a steal of two in the final end.

Sonnenberg said the Thunder rink practices twice a week throughout the curling season.

She added that qualifying for the national tournament is lengthy and includes two regional weekend bonspiels in which teams must advance to get the right to play at the ACAC provincial championships.

Sonnenberg said it was a bit of a whirlwind for the team to get to the national championship tournament, saying it took several connecting flights followed by a two-hour drive to get to Fredericton, which took place at the Aitken University Centre at the University of New Brunswick from March 11-16.

The Thunder hit the rink for the first time on March 11 for their first practice and game.

"We started well [winning 8-7], playing a really strong team [the Humber College Hawks], so that put us on a good path for the rest of the competition," she said.

Sonnenberg added that, unfortunately, they did not get an opportunity due to the hectic practice and round-robin game schedule to do any sightseeing during the championships.

"I guess we could have made some time, but right from the start, we decided to concentrate on curling, which meant sleeping well and getting good nutrition," she said.

Sonnenberg added that although they were mostly pleased with their performance during the round-robin tournament, they knew they still had room for improvement.

"It all came down to the final day of competition at the semis and then the finals," she said. "We worked so hard all season to get where we were, and we were just so happy that we were able to put it all together when it mattered."

Sonnenberg said she was especially delighted to win the national championship with this group of women.

"They are truly some of my best friends off the ice, so it was extraordinary to be able to do it with them," she said. 

Because of their performance at the CCAA championships, the rink has also been invited to play at the prestigious PointsBet Invitational in September at the Calgary WinSport Event Centre, which will feature 16 of the best Canadian women's teams.

"It is by invitation only. It features the Top 10 [women's professional teams] plus six teams that have won national championships. So it is very likely we will be playing someone like Rachel Holman."

The Rachel Holman-led rink recently defeated Switzerland for the Women's World Championship title.

Sonnenberg said curling has been something she has been doing since she was very young, adding that she got her start through the Barrhead Curling Club's Little Rock junior curling program when she was in Grace 2, then progressing in the sport, playing for several competitive teams at the league and high school level, before opting to move on to play out of the St. Albert and Sherwood Park clubs.

"My mom [Shirley] inspired me to get into curling. She was always playing and watching curling on TV, and I wanted to be just like her. I am so happy I had the opportunity to learn from her, " she said, adding that her mother coached her for several years.

Sonnenberg also said the curling, or more specifically the coaching quality, was one reason she chose Concordia University.

"I knew about [coach Tania Smiley] and heard about what an amazing coach she was, and that played a significant role in my choosing Concordia University for my post-secondary studies, she said, adding her reputation is well justified. "She is the best coach I've ever had."

When asked if she had any inclination to head her own rink as skip next season with Concordia, Sonnenberg said no.

"We've been playing together for several years, even before we were at Concordia, and I've been third pretty much the entire time," she said. "I enjoy playing third; it suits me and my game because I can do many different things. Not only do I get to sweep, but I am involved in strategy, calling lines, and I am able to throw a wide variety of shots."

Barry Kerton,


Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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