The first time Anchorage curler Jessica Schultz earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, it was a surprise. She and her teammates were underdogs who came up big at the 2006 Olympic trials.
Saturday when Schultz clinched her second Olympic berth, it was as a member of the top-ranked team in the United States and the seventh-ranked team in the world. Schultz is a top dog, not an underdog, as she heads to February's Winter Olympics with teammates Erika Brown, Deb McCormick and Anne Swisshelm.
"My head's in the clouds," Schultz said in a phone interview late Saturday. "I'm floating."
The Brown rink -- so named because Brown is the skip -- completed a sweep of the best-of-three playoff series at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Fargo, N.D. on Saturday by beating the Allison Pottinger rink 8-7. Coupled with Friday's 7-5 victory, the win punched Schultz's ticket to Sochi, Russia.
With parents Marty and Nancy watching from the stands at Scheels Arena, Schultz shared hugs, laughs and tears with her teammates at game's end.
"We knew what we needed to do to reach our goals, and we've done everything we could to reach this point," Schultz said. "To be on the top again is amazing."
Throughout the trials, Schultz and her teammates were being called an all-star team, because all four women have Olympic experience.
But they could just as well be called the Comeback Curlers, because all of the players but McCormick have waited through at least one Olympic cycle to make their return to sport's biggest stage.
Brown is going to her third Olympics in a 26-year span and her first since 1998 (she also competed in 1988 when curling was a demonstration sport). Swisshelm is going to her second Olympic and her first since 2002, and Schultz is returning for the first time since 2006. McCormick, meanwhile, competed at the 2010, 2002 and 1998 Olympics.
The women -- who live in four different states -- got together in 2011, Schultz said.
"Deb and I started a relationship curling, and she was already curling with Erika and Anne," she said. "When they decided to form a team they called me and asked me to join the team, and of course I said yes."
At 28, Schultz is the baby of the group. Swisshelm is 45, Brown is40 and McCormick is 35.
"We get along so well," Schultz said. "It doesn't feel like there's an age gap at all. We all listen to each other, and we all bring forth different experiences."
Schultz earned her trip to the Olympics while working full time as a physical therapy assistant at Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minneapolis. She works a 40-hour, four-day week that gives her long weekends to practice and compete.
She and her teammates practice on their own and get together for competitions. Thanks to their victory at the Olympic trials, they'll be getting together more frequently in the coming months -- the team is headed to pre-Olympic competitions in Scotland, Las Vegas and possibly Switzerland, Schultz said.
During the trials, Schultz and her teammates wore numbers on the backs of their jerseys that represent elements of the periodic table.
Schultz's number was 79 -- gold. She said she chose it because gold is a transitional element that can be formed into many things. As the second on the Brown rink, Schultz plays a position that requires her to transition from guards to peels during a game.
That gold is also the color of the medal most coveted by Olympic athletes is a coincidence, she said.
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By BETH BRAGG