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Teen curlers to represent Fargo area and North Dakota at National Curling Championship

Team Karjalainen will be among the youngest competitors at the national curling tournament in Lafayette, Colorado.

Young women stand with curling brooms
Lily Rokke, Heidi Holt, Makenzie Vangstad and Lia Karjalainen, left to right, are pictured at the F-M Curling Club in Fargo. Known as Team Karjalainen, they will compete at the USA U18 National Curling Championship at Rock Creek Curling in Lafayette, Colorado from January 12-15, 2023.
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FARGO — A team of young women, one of them not yet a teenager, will take on older athletes in a national curling tournament in a suburb of Denver this week.

Known as Team Karjalainen, the North Dakota girls will compete in the fifth annual USA U18 (under age 18) National Curling Championship at Rock Creek Curling in Lafayette, Colorado from January 12-15.

The team is made up of Lia Karjalainen, 14, of West Fargo, Heidi Holt, 14, of Bismarck, Makenzie Vangstad, 14, of Fargo and Lily Rokke, 12, of Fargo.

Another team member, Christabella Clairmont, 15, of Fargo, injured her arm recently in a school wrestling match, so Rokke is going in her place.

Coach Rachel Workin said her team is four to five years younger than most of the competitors.

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“It's definitely a pretty stacked field, especially on the girls side,” Workin said.

The North Dakota team is among 12 women’s teams and 12 men’s teams who will vie for the national title. They’ve all played in various territory or conference competitions throughout the country to earn the right to get to the championship.

Team Karjalainen played in the Dakota Territory and was defeated by older athletes, Team Black out of Bismarck, but was still selected as a second team out of the territory.

Each team is guaranteed to play five games at the national tournament. Team Karjalainen, previously sponsored by The Forum, has its first game on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 10 p.m. CST.

Lia Karjalainen, the “skip” or captain of the team, has realistic hopes.

“I'm not expecting us to win most of our games, really, but I think it'll be a good learning experience and just a chance to meet new people,” she said.

Her dad, Neil Karjalainen, said they’ve played a few of the teams before but never at this level of a tournament.

“(To) have an outside chance at getting into a playoff for a medal would be really amazing,” he said.

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Lia started in the sport of curling around age 7 in a kids program at the F-M Curling Club and never looked back.

“She's been with it ever since,” her dad said.

Lia plays in a doubles league with her dad and a girls league on Tuesdays and in another league with boys on Thursdays.

Weekends are spent practicing or playing in tournaments, or bonspiels.

Her mom, Lyn Karjalainen, said watching Lia is fun, for the most part.

“Every once in a while it gets to be a little nerve wracking but I feel like that's with any sport,” she said.

Lia’s dad said it’s definitely more stressful watching her compete than playing the game himself.

“She's competitive. She expects a lot out of herself and out of her teammates,” he said.

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Lia has a goal of qualifying to curl next year at the Youth Olympic Games 2024 in Gangwon Province, South Korea.

The curling season runs from November through March, so in the off-season, Lia runs track and cross country in school.

Fargo has a robust youth curling program, the largest in North Dakota, Neil Karjalainen said.

Workin said the FM Curling Club has attracted a number of competitive players from all over the country who move here to attend North Dakota State University and curl at the Fargo facility.

Getting kids involved in curling at a young age is key.

“Then they just seem to stick with it and want to go back year after year,” Workin said.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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