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Their low-profile sport sweeps back into spotlight

Nicole Vassar (left) of Framingham and Teri Olson of Littleton serve as sweepers  last week at the Broomstones Curling Club in Wayland.

Michele McDonald for The Boston Globe

Nicole Vassar (left) of Framingham and Teri Olson of Littleton serve as sweepers last week at the Broomstones Curling Club in Wayland.

WAYLAND — Every Tuesday night, from October through April, a number of the area’s best curlers descend upon the four 138-foot sheets of ice at the Broomstones Curling Club.

Last week was no different.

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Eighteen four-person teams — composed of just men, or men and women together — competed in Presidents League play in the 6:15 and 8:30 time slots at the facility off Rice Road in Wayland.

There was one exception, though.

Four women in their 40s — Sharon Cutter, a Bedford resident, Teri Olson of Littleton, Framingham’s Nicole Vassar, and Karen Walker of Upton — formed the league’s lone all-female squad five years ago. And despite a two-year period in which Walker relocated to Spokane, Wash., the group has remained inseparable. Its members even traveled halfway across the country to reconnect during Walker’s hiatus.

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So on this night, in spite of a valiant comeback attempt in a contest the foursome narrowly lost, 7-6, smiles and hugs were readily exchanged in the match’s immediate aftermath.

As the winners prepared to buy their adversaries the first round of drinks — a curling tradition— the banter turned to the ladies’ last throw. It narrowly missed taking out the opposition’s 42-pound stone situated in a 12-foot-wide circle known as the “house,” and knotting the score at 7-7.

‘At times it can test a relationship.’

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“We do really enjoy each other’s company,” said Cutter, who took up the sport in 2000. Last week, she competed for the first time with her teammates in the US Women’s Curling Association National Women’s Bonspiel, which was hosted by the Wayland club. A few early matches were also scheduled for The Country Club in Brookline.

“We all curl with a fairly relaxed manner,” she continued. “We like being together on the ice and off the ice, so we’ll go to an occasional tournament together just because we like to spend a weekend together. We just kind of go with the flow. If somebody misses a shot, we move past it and onto the next shot. We just get along well.”

Ever since curling was added to the official program of the Winter Olympics at Nagano, Japan, in 1998, the sport has been thrust back into the spotlight every four years. And repeatedly, it has sparked an infectious, fairly widespread curiosity. With the Winter Games taking place in Sochi, Russia, interest is on the rise again.

Broomstones, established in 1968 and the largest curling facility in the region, has served as one local outlet for novices seeking to satisfy their fascination and gauge their potential.

“Every Olympic cycle there is a huge influx of interest into curling,” said Colleen Hennessey, a Maynard resident who volunteers as the club’s membership chairwoman, and joined with her boyfriend, Jeff Mills, after the 2010 Vancouver Games. “We were a freshmen class after that,” she said. “Our club took in about 50 new members that year, which really filled up our space,’’ with room for 350 players. “We went to a waiting list. We’ve basically been at capacity every year.”

The narrative is common among the club’s members.

“I like to blame my husband,” Olson joked. “We actually got involved in curling after the Torino Olympics,’’ in 2006. “We were totally mesmerized watching it on TV.”

Despite losing about 50 people over the past two summers, often because they move from the area or face busier schedules, the club has repeatedly filled its vacated slots.

With an open house set for March 1, timed to coincide with the anticipated post-Olympic fervor, this year should be no different.

But what exactly is it about curling that sends experienced devotees into an impassioned monologue about an activity commonly described as frustratingly addictive?

It can’t be the awkward lunging pose, while sliding across the ice, that curlers must perform when dispatching the heavy stone; it’s a position that often leaves first-timers with burning hamstrings and quad muscles in the days following their initial exposure.

There’s also the coordination needed to sweep and concurrently navigate the ice, two activities that Olympians seem to perform simultaneously with considerable ease and strength, yet typically prove uncomfortable to the untrained curler.

“It has a marksman or accuracy part to it,” offered Cutter. “I also really like the strategy piece of it. They often refer to curling as chess on ice. And that’s because, basically, each team is throwing eight stones at each end. If I put my stone here, what are they going to do to counter that?”

In addition, there is the quest for the unattainable.

“I don’t know if I can put it into words,” Vassar said, “but there’s just so much involved with the delivery and trying to throw the perfect stone.

“It’s kind of like playing golf and getting your golf swing together.”

Olympians make accurate shots at a clip of 80 to 90 percent, aficionados say. Club players, on a “really, really, really good day,” said Hennessey, might reach 50 percent.

And as much as physical execution and strategic acumen are pivotal to success, team dynamics carry equal importance. Being able to collectively reach decisions is emotionally daunting, especially when struggles ensue.

“At times it can test a relationship,” admitted Mills, who besides curling alongside Hennessey is also on an all-guys team. “There’s a lot of decision-making.

“It’s like when my ex-wife and I built a house together — all of a sudden we had to make 125 decisions in the span of three weeks. And that really pulls out your decision-making differences; sometimes there’s a dynamic there between couples that you might not see in people who go home to different beds at night,’’ he said.

“It is kind of an interesting phenomenon.”

Olson’s husband, Scott, who on Tuesday night was competing on a men’s team on an adjacent ice sheet, acknowledged facing similar obstacles.

“Mixed doubles was interesting when we first started,” he said of competing on co-ed teams. “We did it for a couple years and we almost had to stop; we almost had to find other partners. And then somewhere in year two we made it work.

“That was five years ago. We’re loving mixed doubles.”

These mental challenges coupled with the physical toils seem to leave enthusiasts constantly desiring more.

As for the Sochi Olympics and the looming men’s and women’s curling finals, which are scheduled for Thursday and Friday, various Broomstones members offer roughly the same response when asked how they’ll be spending their time away from the club over the next seven days.

“Absolutely,” Vassar said when asked if she’ll be watching. “It’s fun to see it on TV.

“I’ve competed against some of the women at the Olympics before,’’ she said, citing US team members Erika Brown and Ann Swisshelm, “so it’s just great to see them out on the ice and rooting for them to do well.”

Paul Lazdowski can be reached at pmlazdowski@gmail.com.
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