Alaskan one win away from return trip to Winter Olympics

Beth Bragg
Michael Burns / USCA

Jessica Schultz, the Anchorage woman who earlier this year helped ensure that the United States will have a women's curling team at the February's Winter Olympics, took a big step Friday toward making sure she is on that team.

Schultz and her teammates won Friday's opening game in the best-of-three playoff series at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Fargo, N.D.

The winner of the series, which continues Saturday, will compete at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Schultz, a 2006 Olympian who grew up playing at the Anchorage Curling Club, helped the Erika Brown rink take a 7-5 victory Friday over the Allison Pottinger rink.

The Brown team, an all-Olympian lineup that also includes three-time Olympian Debbie McCormick and 2002 Olympian Ann Swisshelm, hit for two points to open the game and was in control throughout.

Brown, who is vying for her third Olympics and her first since 1998, delivered a shot in the seventh end that was worth three points, sealing the win.

The Brown and Pottinger rinks meet again Saturday at 4 p.m. AST. If the Brown rink wins, Schultz, 28, is going back to the Olympics. If the Pottinger rink wins, the final game will be played Sunday at 11 a.m. Games are being broadcast on NBC Sports Network (cable channel 39).

Brown told NBC Sports that her team will get together Saturday afternoon and try to calm their nerves before the critical evening game. She said the women might take their pets to a dog park.

"Try and relax," she said. "I don't know if that's going to be possible."

The United States is guaranteed a spot in the women's curling competition in Sochi thanks to the fourth-place finish Schultz and her team posted at the world championships in March.

The U.S. men have no such guarantee -- although they are also competing at the trials in Fargo, the winning team will advance to Sochi only if it nails down a berth at the final international Olympic qualification event next month in Germany.