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Looking to be picture perfect

Adding Lawes sign Jones is pushing hard for Sochi in '14

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Jennifer Jones has now authored two Shots Heard 'Round the Curling World.

The first one -- an in-off-for-four with the last rock of the 2005 Canadian Women's Curling Championship final -- has gone down as one of the greatest shots in curling history and gave Jones a reputation she has cemented over and again in the intervening years as a player who thrives, like almost no other, on adversity.

 

The second shot came last spring when Jones fired hall of fame third Cathy Overton-Clapham from her squad and replaced her with promising -- but very inexperienced -- young gun Kaitlyn Lawes.

That second shot was fired behind closed doors but was just as unexpected as the first and its echo -- just like its predecessor -- continues to reverberate today as the 2010-11 curling season gets underway.

Even in the increasingly cutthroat world of curling where everything is about qualifying for the next Winter Olympics, Jones's decision to dump a key element of a team that has won the last three Canadian women's titles -- and four of the last six -- was every bit as stunning as her circus shot in Newfoundland.

For Jones, who has made controversial personnel moves before, the decision was all about her continuing efforts to professionalize her curling team. Like a glossy new team website the team unveiled this week and a well-respected new coach they've hired in Earle Morris to replace the retired Janet Arnott, the decision to punt Overton-Clapham was made with one singular goal in mind -- representing Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Lawes is a two-time Canadian junior champion, has 20 years on Overton-Clapham and Jones believes she can school Lawes over the next four years -- there are no Olympic points up for grabs this year -- to be the kind of player that could get her team to Sochi.

"I think Kaitlyn will respond well," says Jones. "She's a pressure player and obviously we have a lot of experience to help her out there."

The new Jones foursome will make its debut next week in Oslo, Norway, where it will compete at a major international bonspiel called the Oslo Cup.

Much closer to home, Overton-Clapham's dismissal has set off personnel moves on several other teams and created, not surprisingly, a brand new women's curling powerhouse with Overton-Clapham at skip.

Overton-Clapham has put together a Manitoba playdowns team that has Breanne Meakin (defending Manitoba junior champ) at third and Leslie Wilson and Raunora Westcott (defending Manitoba women's champs as the front end for Jill Staub) at second and lead, respectively.

Overton-Clapham says that her new squad will compete in three cashspiels this winter and be pointed towards the Manitoba playdowns, where they will be the likely favourite to win the right to represent Manitoba and join Jones, who will be team Canada, at the national Scotties in Charlottetown.

And how's that for a storyline to watch this winter?

It is one that Overton-Clapham says she has been unable to escape ever since Jones fired her last spring.

"It's been hard," Overton-Clapham says. "I can't get away from it. Wherever I go -- whether it's the grocery store, the airport, anywhere -- there's someone who stops and wants to talk about it. So yeah, it's been tough."

The good news is Overton-Clapham won't be spending much time in Winnipeg this winter bumping into those never-ending reminders. In addition to her playdowns team, Overton-Clapham also has a team of youngsters from the Maritimes that she's been hired by the Canadian Curling Association to tutor and cashspiel with. And she will also be making guest appearances on a list of teams that sounds like a who's who of curling -- Anette Norberg, Jan Betker, Heather Nedohin (this weekend in Edmonton), Mary-Anne Arsenault...

"I'll be curling every weekend," Overton-Clapham says. "It will be very busy."

Getting jettisoned by Jones has been very costly for Overton-Clapham. She has lost about $7,500 in national team funding as well as her share of all the lucrative sponsorships the Jones team holds. She says she has just one sponsor heading into the season -- old reliable Arnold Asham -- and is still hoping to find a little more help with the bills.

Overton-Clapham isn't the only the Manitoba curler losing national team funding this winter. Jeff Stoughton has also lost the $30,000 in national team funding his top six team would have been entitled to this winter if they'd stayed together.

If Stoughton has moved just one player, like Jones, he could have kept his team funding and the automatic berth in this winter's provincial men's championship he was entitled to as the defending Manitoba men's champ.

But because Stoughton jettisoned both third Kevin Park and second Rob Fowler -- replacing them with Jon Mead and Reid Carruthers, respectively -- he loses both those valuable perks.

No regrets, Stoughton says. "We knew it was going to be what it was going to be when we made these moves... We come out and have a good year, we can get back into that top six."

Winnipeg's Mike McEwen, runner-up to Stoughton in the provincials last year, is already in that top six and will enjoy that perk for the first time this winter. Whether it's enough to finally get that highly touted team to a Brier remains to be seen in what promises to be a very interesting curling season to watch.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

NEW SEASON, LOTS ON LINE C2

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 16, 2010 C1

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