BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y.-- Andrew Stopera's dream of one day becoming a member of the U.S. Olympic Curling Team made another slide forward this week then the Briarcliff teen was was invited to be a part of USA Curling's High Performance Program for the 2014-15 season.
Stopera, a 16-year-old senior year at Hackley School in Tarrytown and member of the Ardsley Curling Club in Irvington, has been curling since he was 8. His father, Bill, who also curled as a child and was was the U.S. men's curling national champion in 2012, introduced his son to the game.
"Being selected for this team means that I am one step closer to my dream of going to the Olympics," Stopera said. "Since I was young, I have wanted to win a national championship and go to the Worlds, and this has put me one step closer because this enables me to play with four great players. I am very proud of my achievement, but I have so much more work to do to achieve my ultimate goal."
Forty-eight athletes participated and were assessed on technical, tactical, physical and mental skills both on and off the ice at the Athlete Combine held July 19-23 at the Four Seasons Curling Club in Minnesota, where Stopera, who was a member of the silver medal team at the 2014 US Junior Nationals in February, was selected.
"Since I started curling, my game has progressed in many ways," Stopera said. "I have seen my rock throwing technique improve through practice and competition. The experience of playing a lot of games has in particular helped my knowledge of curling strategy. By playing against better opponents, I can see what strategies work and what strategies don't."
Being selected for the program means Stopera will have access to on- and off-ice coaching from the U.S. national coaching staff.
"They are sending us to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs at the end of the month for a week of training," he said. "We are also provided with a fitness coach and a sports psychologist, which will definitely help in making us better players."
USA Curling's 2014-15 HPP calls for up to six teams of five members each to be formed from the individuals invited in: a women's A and B team, and junior team (age 21 and younger); and a men's A and B team as well as a junior squad. All athletes accepted into the program for the coming season will attend a mandatory training camp Aug. 23-29 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I'd say the sport is getting more popular," Spotera said. "More and more people watched curling in the Sochi Olympics, and it's also getting more exposure on TV in the U.S. There has definitely been an increase in membership at the Ardsley Curling Club over the years, especially after each Olympics. Curling may not be as popular in the U.S. as it is in Canada, but it's slowly getting there."
And Spotera is one of the young rock throwers leading the way.