Christina Black knew the time had come to answer the call.
With the departure of curling great Mary-Anne Arsenault, the broom was passed to Black, the longtime third on three-time provincial Scotties championship rink.
Arsenault, also a two-time world champion with the Colleen Jones rink, moved to British Columbia in the spring after her team finished play at the Canadian Scotties Tournament of Heart.
“There’s not a lot of skips that I would measure up to her, so to go play for someone else would be difficult,” said Black. “I thought that I can do this and it was time for me to step up and skip.”
So Black stepped into the hack with Jenn Baxter, another holdover from the Arsenault rink, and newcomers Karlee Jones and Shelley Barker, formerly of the Julie McEvoy foursome.
The new rink, out of the Dartmouth Curling Club, made an impressive debut by winning the Curling Store Cashspiel last weekend at Sackville’s Lakeshore Curling Club.
The Black rink defeated Suzanne Birt of Charlottetown 5-4 in an extra end in the final. They also collected wins over Theresa Breen, Colleen Jones, Kaylee Nodding and Isabelle Ladouceur along the way.
“It was a nice way to start the season,” understated Black. “We’re a new team and we all kind of took on new roles too. With this season being different with COVID than normal seasons, we never had a chance to get together until September. You’re not sure how it’s going to go. So it’s nice to win some games and the tournament when we’re not all playing our best yet because it is so early. Just to be able to pull out wins when you’re such a new team and still figuring everybody out is definitely a positive way to start.”
Black said the foursome clicked immediately. Playing in a weekly league that began a few weeks ago at the Halifax Curling Club was helpful in the adjustment to their new roles, she said.
“It felt right from our first practice and game,” she said. “It didn’t feel like we were brand new.
“Jenn Baxter is throwing third rocks and we’ve played together for the past six years with Mary-Anne. Our front end (Jones and Baxter) is new to us but they have played together for a few years. So it was kind of combining two sets of two, which also makes it a little easier because it’s not four brand new people that don’t know each other.”
"There’s not a lot of skips that I would measure up to her, so to go play for someone else would be difficult. I thought that I can do this and it was time for me to step up and skip.
Christina Black talking about her former skip Mary-Anne Arsenault
Arsenault, who has formed a new team in British Columbia with three former members of the world champion Kelly Scott rink, has no doubt Black will be successful in her new role.
“There’s nobody in the game keener than ‘Tina,” said Arsenault. "She’s a real student of the game. She’d rather be at the rink than anywhere else in the world.
“I knew it was only a matter of time before she started skipping. My departure was the perfect opening for her.”
Black praised Arsenault as the ideal mentor to play for.
“I learned so much from playing for Mary-Anne,” said Black. “It made me a better curler and an all-around better player. She was such a great skip, such a good leader of our team. You learn how she acted on the ice and how she led the team. She was so calming out there too. It’s like she didn’t get rattled and you need that if you are the skip.”
Arsenault described Black as the ‘best female sweeper in Nova Scotia’ and the new skip says she will miss that aspect of the game.
“I love sweeping,” said Black. “As a curler and an athlete I always wanted to be better and keep getting better Sweeping was something I worked on because it was a way to improve my game. I worked very hard to increase my strength and technique and become a very good sweeper. Going to skipping was something that I had to weigh because I really enjoy sweeping so much.”
She added that her teammates are also very good on the broom and the team won’t suffer without her working the ice.
It’s still early in the team’s partnership, but Black is comfortable with her teammates and new role.
“It’s feeling good and we’ve been having fun together. It’s (skipping) been feeling pretty natural so far to be there in the house calling the game. We still have our same coaches Carol MacLean and Stuart MacLean and they are great assets to have.”
What didn’t feel natural Black said, was playing before an empty curling club due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
“They weren’t allowed spectators,” she said. “The only people that were watching were the ones running the event, volunteers and coaches. That was different because usually, it’s pretty busy. After a game, you might sit down with the other team for a drink but that’s not happening. You just have to leave and make room for the teams that are going to come to play next.”
Black said they training for the season like any other and will deal with any bumps in the road due to COVID.
“We’re going to play in a league every week, practice together a few times a week,” said the 32-year-old Sydney native. “We’re approaching it as if there will be a Scotties because you don’t know for sure, so we are just going to work hard like there is and hope for the best.”
The women return to action in Moncton in three weeks and hope to continue the upward trajectory.
“We formed the team with expectations that we would be able to win the province and go the Scotties,” said Black. “It (the win) solidifies that we are doing the right things and we have something working. It’s a good starting point to grow from for the year.”