STONEWALL — The route she took to this day was unfamiliar, but the result was very much the same.
Just 10 weeks after giving birth to her first child, Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones did here Sunday night what she always seems to do at this time of year — she hoisted a championship curling trophy over her head.
For the sixth time since 2002, Jones will represent Manitoba at the Canadian women’s curling championship after a 9-3 victory over Winnipeg rival Barb Spencer in the final of the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
In addition to her five previous Manitoba titles, Jones has also competed in four national Scotties Tournaments of Hearts as Team Canada, meaning this will be the 38-year-old Winnipeg lawyer’s 10th trip to the women’s nationals.
What’s more, Jones has now won the Manitoba title the last five times she has competed in the provincials, including the last two years in a row.
But while it all might seem very familiar, this championship was demonstrably different. Sunday’s victory capped an unusual season for the Jones foursome — Jones, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin. The three curled without Jones all fall and winter as the skip recovered from knee surgery and the birth of daughter Isabella in mid-November.
Jones only returned to competitive curling a couple weeks ago when she competed with her team again for the first time at the Continental Cup in Penticton, B.C.
"I feel like we really had to work hard to get this one done," said Jones. "I thought it was our best event from start to finish and to do that after not playing with each other in the fall and practising so hard — to see it all come together is really special...
"It’s probably the most emotional win I’ve ever had."
Also a bit unusual this year was the manner of Jones’s championship. Jones has always been at her very best when under pressure and surrounded by adversity, but this year’s path to the title was remarkably smooth — a 6-1 round-robin record and first place in her pool; an easy 11-2 win over Colleen Kilgallen in Saturday night’s 1 vs 1 game; and then a relatively efficient dismantling of Spencer in a championship game that was effectively over by the eighth end.
To her credit, Spencer and her team — third and daughter Katie Spencer, second Ainsley Champagne and lead Raunora Westcott — gave Jones a better game than many were expecting from Spencer, particularly after her team shot very low percentages in a 6-3 semifinal win over Kilgallen earlier in the day.
Spencer cooly drew the four-foot against two Jones counters in both the second and sixth ends Sunday night — catching a break in the first instance from a beneficial late spin of her rock that moved just enough to turn what was looking like a steal of two for Jones into a single for Spencer on a measure.
But this game ultimately turned on a pair of Spencer misses in the eighth end. Light on a come-around attempt with her first rock, an unnerved Spencer fired a second draw attempt all the way out the back of the house, leaving Jones an easy draw for a back-breaking three-ender.
"I had draw weight all week and I came out today and I don’t know what happened. It just wasn’t there for me," said Spencer.
With the win, Jones will now represent Manitoba at the Canadian women’s curling championship in Kingston, Ont., Feb. 16-24. The winner of that event advances the next month to the women’s world curling championship, which this year is in Riga, Latvia.
"I hear Latvia," laughed Jones, "is very nice in March."