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Baby comes first for Jones' second

No guarantee new mother Officer will play provincials

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She's just completed the most difficult -- and important -- delivery of her life.

The question now is whether new mom Jill Officer can get back to throwing the much simpler deliveries that have made her a household name among curling fans -- and do it in time to make a difference in this month's Manitoba women's provincial curling championship.

Officer -- a former world champion and four-time Canadian champion as the longtime second for Jennifer Jones -- returned to the curling ice at Wildewood Curling Club Friday afternoon for the first time all winter after taking the season off to have a baby, a bouncing bundle of joy named Camryn Eveline.

Young Camryn arrived Dec. 12 -- 10 days late -- and only after what Officer describes as a long and difficult delivery.

It was only this week that Officer finally got the go-ahead from doctors to begin throwing rocks.

And so the question looms: Can Officer -- after having not thrown a single rock all winter -- get into game-shape in time to rejoin her teammates and compete at the Manitoba women's provincials, which begin Jan. 25 in Portage la Prairie?

"I honestly can't put odds on it," Officer said earlier this week. "I mean, I'm going to be back curling at some point but I just don't know right now whether it will be in the next week-and-a-half.

"I'll have a much better idea next week... Everyone's prepared for it to go either way and I'm not going to leave them hanging. I'd like to make a decision."

It's a much later return to the ice than Officer was hoping for when she and the Jones team laid out a plan for this season last summer. "I'd hoped it would go faster than it has," she says, "but it just hasn't. So that is what it is and there's not much I can do."

The prospect that Officer cannot return in time for the provincials is a very distinct possibility -- and one with implications in what promises to be a ferociously competitive battle for the provincial women's title.

Curling without Officer this season, the Jones team has used a combination of Quebec curler Joelle Sabourin and their longtime fifth, Winnipeg's Jennifer Clark Rouire, to post decent results on the cash tour, highlighted by a win at the Canada Cup last month (Sabourin played) when the team earned a berth into the 2013 Canadian Curling Trials.

But Sabourin is unavailable to Jones for the provincials because she is from Quebec, meaning if Officer cannot play then they will go into battle with Clark-Rouire, who lacks the big-game experience that Officer -- or even Sabourin -- would bring.

What's more, the team who finished second to Jones at the Canada Cup -- Chelsea Carey -- will also be competing at the provincials, as will the pesky Cathy Overton-Clapham -- the winningest female curler in Manitoba history, defending Manitoba champion and owner of second place on the women's tour money list this season.

Jones and the rest of her team, with Clark-Rouire playing lead, are in Bern, Switzerland this weekend, where they are competing in the prestigious International Bernese Ladies Cup as a final tuneup for provincials.

The general consensus seems to be that even with Officer's status in doubt, the Jones team will likely be proclaimed the favourite when the seedings for the 16-team field are released next week.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2012 C5

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