Sarah Koltun's Yukon rink may be paving the way for a new generation of northern curlers.
The team representing the Territories lost twice at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Monday — both by a score of 9-3 after eight ends — to Team Canada's Rachel Homan in the afternoon and Quebec's Allison Ross in the evening.
But there's promise in the Yukon's (1-4) play.
They're the youngest team at this year's Scotties. Skip Sarah Koltun, lead Andrea Sinclair and second Patty Wallingham are all 20 years old, while third Chelsea Duncan is 21.
The young women from Whitehorse have put their studies on hold for the year in order to stay in the Yukon and train for the season.
"It's just something we decided was worth it in order to become more successful," said Koltun. "In the sport in general, teams are becoming more successful at a young age."
They raise money year-round and receive funding from the Yukon government to offset the cost of travel expenses to tournaments.
After skipping seven consecutive years at the Canadian junior championship, Koltun is now the youngest skip ever to play in this, her first Scotties.
"It's been really good so far," she said. "And to have the crowd on our side is really cool. We've been enjoying it a lot. The teams here are a lot stronger."
In their evening match, Quebec' Ross (1-4) broke a deadlock in the seventh end, putting up a four-spot with her last stone.
"It wasn't my first instinct," Ross said of the tough shot that ultimately gave her the victory. "I was just going to draw for two. And my lead (Pamela Nugent) said, 'Is the double there?' We went and looked. We figured it was, and that we might as well try it out."
Quebec stole another two in the eighth to record their first victory of the Scotties to the delight of the hometown fans.
"We made some shots that made it worth the crowd cheering for us," said Ross. "It feels really good — finally. We played as well as we played in the other games, but it actually went our way this time. Nice change."
The evening draw saw tight finishes across all other sheets.
Newfoundland's Heather Strong (4-1) and P.E.I.'s Kim Dolan (2-3) took a 4-4 tie into the 10th end, where Strong scored a deuce for the 6-4 victory.
Nova Scotia's Heather Smith (1-4) was involved in a seesaw battle with British Columbia's Kesa Van Osch (2-3). Van Osch made her final rock count in the 10th end to win 9-8 after giving up the two-point lead in the ninth.
Nova Scotia has given up leads in each of its four Scotties losses.
"We've had chances to win all four," said Smith. "An end or a shot, here or there, are the difference in our games so far. We just can't find a way to win.
"In a week like this one, you just have to hope to get more wins than losses on those close ones."
Alberta's Val Sweeting (4-1) needed extra ends to beat New Brunswick's Andrea Crawford (2-3) by a score of 9-8 in the 11th. Sweeting put two points on the board in the eighth, and another two in the ninth, before Crawford tied the game with the hammer in the 10th.
In afternoon matches Monday, Dolan edged Ontario's Allison Flaxey (1-3) by a count of 7-5. Flaxey scored one in the seventh end, and another in the eighth, but couldn't complete the comeback.
Manitoba's Chelsea Carey (3-1) scored four in the ninth against Nova Scotia, which conceded right after.
The afternoon draw also saw a Saskatchewan team that could do no wrong, beating New Brunswick 9-3 after eight ends. Saskatchewan skip Stefanie Lawton (3-1) stole four in the third and another three in the fifth to seal the victory.
"There's always room for improvement," said Lawton, who called the four-point steal in the third end a game changer. "It definitely gave us an advantage and we were able to capitalize on that throughout the game. We played strong and put the pressure on."
Homan scored three to take the lead over the Yukon in the third end, and never looked back. With the score 4-1 in the fourth, Koltun had a chance to reduce the deficit, but overthrew her final rock.
"Unfortunately we didn't play our best, but we just need to learn from it," said Koltun.
Still-unbeaten Canada (4-0) added another four in the seventh for an impressive victory.
"We're playing well," said Homan. "We have to fine-tune a few things here and there. We got an early head start, and it was tough (for the Yukon) to catch up.
"We're feeling good. We just need to keep rolling."
Homan said she recognized a slightly younger version of herself in the Yukon's skip, and suggested their styles of play were similar.
Koltun couldn't agree more.
"We try to play and train similarly, putting in the effort, the time, that's necessary to be successful," said Koltun, who's admired Homan since seeing her play at the 2007 Winter Canada Games in Whitehorse. "That hard work will eventually pay off."