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Crowded at the top with three at 5-1

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STONEWALL -- Jennifer Jones, Barb Spencer and a plucky young Michelle Montford foursome are all tied for first place atop the Black Group at 5-1 heading into their final round-robin draw this afternoon at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

The 24-year-old Montford -- with third Courtney Blanchard, second D'Arcy Maywood and lead Sarah Neufeld -- had a spectacular Friday, handing Jones her lone loss so far this week, 7-5 on the afternoon draw and then stealing the final two ends against Janet Harvey at night to win 6-5.

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The pair of victories put Montford in position to finish as high as first-place after today's round-robin -- a prospect she admitted was unthinkable just a couple of days ago -- or as low as out of the playoffs entirely.

Whatever happens today, Montford said it's already been an amazing ride here this week for a team with an average age of 23.5 who would instantly become one of the youngest women's teams this province has ever sent to the Canadian women's curling championship, should they win here on Sunday.

"We've already achieved our best Scotties record ever no matter what happens in the last game," said Montford, whose team finished 4-3 at this event in 2011 and again in 2012. "So hopefully we can keep it going."

She's still got some formidable obstacles standing in her way, however. While she beat Jones earlier Friday, it was Jones who came out on top 8-5 at night in a marquee battle with a previously unbeaten Spencer team, and it is Jones who is still generally regarded as the team to beat.

Jones has won this event using just about every conceivable scenario -- from an easy trip through the 1 vs. 1 game to the harried tiebreaker route. While she's now guaranteed at least a tiebreaker game no matter what happens in her final round-robin game this afternoon against Harvey (3-3), Jones could also still finish first if she wins and Spencer beats Montford in their final round-robin game.

Jones was asked if, given her flair for the dramatics over the years, she might not prefer taking a more circuitous route through the playoffs anyway. "We've done it both ways. If you get on a roll, there's nothing better than playing (through the tiebreakers). But ideally, you're not in that position...

"But really we just wanted to get in -- and we're in."

The Spencer-Jones game ultimately turned on the sixth and seventh ends. Spencer needed only the 12-foot with her final rock of the sixth to score a three-ender and take a 5-3 lead, but she was heavy and settled for a deuce.

And then the very next end, it was Jones who needed only an easy draw to score three. But unlike Spencer, Jones made no mistake and suddenly it was Jones who had a two-point lead at 6-4.

Prior to her game with Jones last night, Spencer made clear that she had no illusions about who the team to beat is here this weekend. "Jones is going to be there right until the end. We know that."

Also still in the playoff hunt in the Black Group heading into today is Stonewall's Kate Cameron, who is 4-2.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 C7

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