Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New face of women's curling

Homan win represents changing of the guard

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K INGSTON, ONT. -- The guard doesn't change very often in curling. But it sure appears like it did exactly that on the final weekend of the Canadian women's curling championship.

And it wasn't the changing of the guard that Manitoba's Jennifer Jones was hoping would take place when she decided following the 2010 season to jettison veteran third Cathy Overton-Clapham in favour of a hot young shooter named Kaitlyn Lawes.

The thinking by Jones, in part, was that by getting younger, the team was also getting better and improving their chances to do this December at the Roar of the Rings something no Manitoba team has done -- qualify to represent Canada in curling at the Winter Olympics.

Well, youth carried the day Sunday, alright. It carried the whole final weekend, in fact. But instead of Lawes atop the gold-medal podium, it was a young Ontario foursome skipped by 23-year-old Rachel Homan that were the youth triumphant.

Record-keepers Sunday night were scouring the Canadian Curling Association's incomplete statistical records to find a younger skip than Homan to have taken down a Canadian women's curling championship. A 22-year-old Colleen Jones, who won her first national title back in 1982, jumped off the page. And then there was Manitoba's own Connie Laliberte, who -- like Homan -- won her first Canadian title at age 23 back in 1984.

So yeah, it sure feels like a changing of the guard right now. Especially when you consider Nova Scotia's Jones went on to win five more titles over the ensuing three decades, while Laliberte took down two more titles and curled another two decades after her first big win.

So where does all this leave Manitoba's Jones? Well, in the short term, it seems clear that her team will now go into next December's Canadian Curling Trials at the MTS Centre with home-ice advantage, but also as an underdog to a Homan foursome that displayed skill, strategy and, most importantly, composure well beyond their years.

Jones, on the other hand, will go into Winnipeg with a team that has now failed to win on the national stage in each of the three Scotties since Jones replaced Overton-Clapham with Lawes.

While Jones has made two semifinals and a final since adding Lawes, the cold hard fact is they've been unable to win the big game. Indeed, with Lawes as third for Jones, the team is just 2-5 in the Scotties playoffs and have now lost five of their last six playoff games.

And the team with Overton-Clapham at third? They were the three-time defending Canadian champions when Jones punted Overton-Clapham, a third that has a lifetime record of 20-7 and an 82 per cent shooting average in the Scotties playoffs.

Say what you want about Overton-Clapham -- the fact remains she was money in the Scotties playoffs. And after winning four Canadian titles in six years with her, the Jones team has now won none in the last three years without her.

Now, none of this is to suggest things would have worked out differently if Jones didn't punt Overton-Clapham, or if she had replaced her with a player other than Lawes.

Lawes was brutal in the playoffs in 2012, but she put in a decent performance here over the weekend and was excellent in the loss Sunday night, shooting 94 per cent. And it's also true no one's better in the round-robin than Lawes, including again last week in yet another first-team all-star performance by the 24-year-old.

No, the more salient point here is simply this: If this was all an experiment by Jones in building a bigger and better team with a final target of the 2013 Trials, it is a failed one thus far.

That's not to say this team as presently configured cannot win the Trials in December -- of course they can. Just look at what they did in a history-making undefeated run through the round-robin last week. They're good, real good.

But if they do win next December at MTS Centre, it will be for the first time ever on that kind of big national stage.

And as of Sunday night, that's one-up Rachel Homan now has on them.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2013 C3

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