Pair of U.S. Olympic curlers have BSU ties

Two members of the U.S. Olympic men’s curling team that will be competing at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, have ties to Bemidji State University. The team includes BSU student Jared Zezel and alum Jeff Isaacson.

Olympic Qualification Event 2013, Fussen, Germany. Courtesy World Curling FederationZezel (pictured, right) has taken a break from his studies to pursue his Olympic dreams and will return to BSU and complete his degree in 2014. Isaacson graduated with honors from BSU in 2006 with a degree in chemistry and a minor in mathematics.

Zezel will be making his Olympic debut, while Isaacson is making his second Olympic appearance after helping the Americans to a 10th-place finish at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Zezel, Isaacson and the rest of Team USA, which makes its home at the Duluth Curling Club in Duluth, Minn., qualified for the Sochi games with an 8-5 win over the Czech Republic in a winner-take-all qualifier match, Dec. 15 in Fuessen, Germany.

“I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time,” said Zezel, an exercise science major from Hibbing, in an interview to “That’s why you curl, to get to the Olympics.”

Team USA, which includes Zezel, Isaacson, John Shuster and John Landsteiner, won the U.S. Olympic Trials held in Fargo, N.D., in November, and needed a top-two finish at the German event to qualify for the Olympic Games. The team opened the event with a 2-2 record, but closed with a five-game winning streak to earn its trip to Sochi.

“I didn’t envision I’d be back at the Olympics,” Isaacson said. “There are so many great teams you have to go through, and it’s a process and life takes over so you never know.”

In January, the team will travel to Scotland for a World Curling Tour competition and will be part of Team North America at the 2014 World Financial Group Continental Cup in Las Vegas as a tune-up to the Olympic Games, which begin in February.

The 2014 Games will mark the fifth consecutive winter Olympics to feature athletes with ties to Bemidji State.

In total, Zezel and Isaacson are among a group of at least 17 Olympians with BSU ties and are among a group of at least 10 Olympic curlers to have attended the university. In 2006, 6 of the 10 curlers on the U.S. men’s and women’s Olympic teams, including alternates, were BSU alumni. Other BSU Olympians include five former student-athletes competing in men’s ice hockey, two in women’s ice hockey and one in baseball.

Olympians with Bemidji State ties
• Scott Baird; men’s curling, USA, 2006 Winter
• Charlie Brown; men’s ice hockey, USA, 1972 Winter
• Blaine Comstock; men’s ice hockey, USA, 1976 Winter
• Kari Liapis Erickson; women’s curling, USA, 2002 Winter
• Stacy Liapis Fuchsgruber; women’s curling, USA, 1998 Winter, 2002 Winter
• Jamie (Johnson) Haskell; women’s curling, USA, 2006 Winter
• Rod Heisler; baseball, Canada, 1984 Summer
• Jeff Isaacson; men’s curling, USA, 2010 Winter, 2014 Winter
• Jim McElmury; men’s ice hockey, USA, 1972 Winter
• Joel Otto; men’s ice hockey, USA, 1998 Winter
• Joe Polo; men’s curling, USA, 2006 Winter
• Cassandra (Johnson) Potter; women’s curling, USA, 2006 Winter
• Shawn Rojeski; men’s curling, USA, 2006 Winter
• Gary Ross; men’s ice hockey, USA, 1976 Winter
• Zusana Tomcikova; women’s ice hockey, Slovakia, 2010 Winter
• Jared Zezel; men’s curling, USA, 2014 Winter
• Nina Ziegenhals; women’s ice hockey, Germany, 2002 Winter

Olympic coaches with Bemidji State ties
• Mike Liapis; women’s curling, USA, 2002 Winter

photo credit: World Curling Federation