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UW-Eau Claire Students Win U.S. Junior National Curling Title

RELEASED: Feb. 17, 2006

Junior Women's Curling National Champions
UW-Eau Claire students Megan O'Connell (far left) and Jackie Mueller (second from right) posed with their teammates after their recent victory in the Junior Women’s Curling National Championships in Duluth, Minn. The team will compete at the World Curling Championships in Jeonju, Korea, March 11-19. (Contributed photo)

EAU CLAIRE — With the 2006 Winter Olympics in progress, people around the world are getting their first look at the little known sport of curling.

But for two University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students, curling has always been part of their life. Next month the pair, who grew up in Medford, will represent the United States in worldwide competition, following their recent victory in the Junior Women's Curling National Championships in Duluth, Minn.

Megan O'Connell, a junior biology major who wants to study veterinary medicine, and Jackie Mueller, a junior English education major, along with two teammates, beat a Massachusetts team to win the national championship. The team will compete at the World Curling Championships March 11-19 in Jeonju, Korea.

"I love the strategy of the sport and the camaraderie among players," says O'Connell, who is the team's vice skip, which means that she is second in command. "It's a great sport that you can play for your whole life."

Curling buddies since third grade, O'Connell and Mueller were both introduced to the sport by their parents, who will accompany them to Korea. Teammates since high school, they curl out of the Medford Curling Club, where they go most Monday nights because of the competition and the camaraderie. They also curl regularly at the Eau Claire Curling Club.

O'Connell's dad, Kevin O'Connell, a physician in Medford, and her mother, Kathy Hemer, a nurse practitioner, both attended UW-Eau Claire. They enrolled her in Medford's junior program when she was 8 where she learned the basics.

Mueller, who plays second position on the team, said her dad started taking her to the curling club in Medford before she can remember.

"I can't imagine not being a curler," Mueller said. "I love the feeling that you get after you make a great shot in a really close game. You just know that your team and even the people rooting against you behind the glass are talking about it. It's just the best feeling in the world."

Three years ago the students decided to go outside the Medford club to form a more competitive team. They recruited several players they had previously played against, and started to rack up victories. In addition to the national championship, their accomplishments include Wisconsin State High School Champions in 2002 and runner-up in 2003. They won the state junior curling championship in 2003, 2005 and 2006, and were runner-ups for the national junior titles in 2004 and 2005.

Besides winning the World Championship, O'Connell says her goal is to always have fun and do her best. "I'm not afraid of any shot," she said. "The more difficult, the more fun it is for me."

Both students hope to continue their curling success in the future.

"The next Olympic trials will be three years from now, and we definitely would like to be there," Mueller said.



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