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Jones finding Officer tough act to follow

Expectant mom plans to rejoin team this season

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She's always had a smooth and graceful delivery. And she's never needed one more than right now.

Jennifer Jones second Jill Officer is about to embark on the most important delivery of her life -- in a maternity ward on or about Dec. 2, where Officer is expected to bring forth unto this world a bouncing baby curling prodigy.

"I was warned the end (of a pregnancy) would be the hardest because you're the most uncomfortable and you're getting anxious," Officer said Wednesday. "And I'm certainly feeling some of those things.

"But all in all, it's been pretty good. I can't complain too much. It went pretty smoothly. There were a few bumps in the road, but nothing major that concerned us."

It will be the first for the second, which is just fun to say. And the second will be putting the needs of her first first, which goes without saying.

But what no one's saying is this: With Officer otherwise occupied growing babies these days, her absence from the Jones team on the cashspiel circuit this fall has illustrated -- if there was any lingering doubt -- what a major role Officer has played in the Jones success story over the years.

There seems no other conclusion to draw from what has been an uncharacteristically middling performance for the Jones team on the circuit thus far.

With a combination of longtime fifth Jennifer Clark-Rouire and former Quebec champion Joelle Sabourin playing in place of Officer, the Jones juggernaut has left a lot of money on the table through six events. While they've qualified in four out of those six events, they've only won once -- way back in September at a European event in Oslo.

Since then, it's been two quarter-final appearances -- at the Grand Slam event at Fort Rouge last month and then again last weekend in Red Deer, Alta. -- and a semifinal outing at a Saskatoon event a couple weeks ago. It's all added up to just over $17,000 in winnings so far.

Now, that isn't terrible by any stretch on the cash-starved women's tour, where the Jones hybrid foursome is in eighth place on the money list. And Jones, the eternal glass-is-half-full type, will tell you as much.

"We're really happy with where we are," Jones said. "We didn't have any expectations -- we never do -- and we feel like we're getting better with each weekend and we're in a really good spot."

Maybe, but it has also hardly been the dominating kind of performance we've all grown accustomed to expecting from the four-time Canadian champion skip Jones.

Officer says no one should be too surprised that a change has brought change.

"When you think about it, it's a new team," said Officer. "When we've played together as long as we have, there were always going to be adjustments. I think they've done awesome, considering it all."

So with that as the backdrop, Officer's next delivery will have implications beyond the four walls of the Officer house.

If it goes smoothly and punctually, Officer has designs on being back on the ice by Christmas, New Year's at the latest, and playing a full part on the Jones foursome at the 2012 Manitoba women's curling championship in Portage la Prairie in late January.

It will be the first time since 2008 that Jones has had to compete in the Manitoba provincials, A three-year run from 2008-10 as Canadian champion meant that Jones had been playing as Team Canada at the Canadian championship in recent years, but that free pass ended in last year's national final when she lost to Saskatchewan's Amber Holland.

On the other hand, if there are wrinkles in Officer's delivery that delay her return to the ice and/or keep her out of the provincials, well then all bets are off. Literally.

Because if you were seeding Manitoba teams at the provincials today, you could make a strong case that the top seed right now isn't an Officer-less Jones team at all, but rather Cathy Overton-Clapham's new young squad, who didn't win a dime in Red Deer over the weekend but are still first atop the WCT money list anyways,

Jones says her first concern is for Officer and her baby and her full team will only be reunited when it's best for the two of them.

"We're thrilled for Jill," said Jones, "and we'll be waiting with open arms for whenever she's ready to come back."

To her everlasting credit, Officer has done everything she could during her pregnancy to position herself for a speedy return to the ice. While she hasn't thrown any rocks since last summer, she's worked out at the gym throughout her pregnancy and tried to give her body every possible advantage for the road ahead.

"I'm hoping all that will help," said Officer, "and it will kind of be like riding a bike."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2011 C4

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