STONEWALL -- Kristy McDonald doesn't want to be here. Hates this place, in fact.
No, not Stonewall -- everyone who's been here likes this place. Little town that could -- Winnipeg could learn some lessons.
No, what McDonald (née Jenion) hates is the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. And if you'd had your heart shredded by this event as many times as McDonald has, you'd hate it, too.
"I don't look forward to this event. That's the honest truth -- I really don't. No, I hate it," McDonald said here Tuesday afternoon at the Stonewall Veterans Memorial Centre, which will host this year's Manitoba womens curling championship beginning today.
"It sounds terrible because it's a wonderful event. Great ice, great organizers, great everything. But this is one event I never look forward to. Because there's no prize for second place -- second place is you walk away with absolutely nothing."
McDonald knows all about second place at this event. Four times, she's played in a final -- twice as a skip and the last two years in a row as third for Chelsea Carey. And four times she's come away with, in her words, "absolutely nothing."
And so McDonald says she's determined to take a more emotionally detached approach than previous years. "We're a good team and we're a business. I'm here to do a job and that's to play 80 per cent or more, every game...
"That's kind of the way I have to look at it. That's the only way I can get through the week."
McDonald says defending Manitoba women's champion Jennifer Jones is the team to beat this year, just as she's been for much of the past decade. Jones authored two of McDonald's four defeats in provincial finals and was asked Tuesday if a five-time Manitoba woman's champion like herself has any empathy for a curler like McDonald still looking for her first title.
"She's a great girl and a great friend and if they go on to win, we'd be very happy for them as I'm sure they'd be happy for us," said Jones. "There's a huge amount of respect between all the teams here.
"Everybody's out here to win, but at the end of the day it's just a game and if we play our best and it doesn't happen, I'll be OK with that."
Here's how I see the field breaking down this year:
-- The favourite: Jennifer Jones (even) -- Jones has skipped eight times at the Manitoba women's provincials and won five times. That's a remarkable .625 winning percentage in an event with 16 teams. What's more, Jones has won this event the last four times she's competed in it, including last year.
Yes, she's missed almost an entire competitive season having a baby and recuperating from knee surgery. So bet her against her if you want -- just understand the odds are in her favour, not yours.
-- The challenger: Chelsea Carey (2-1) -- Carey and her foursome shot lights-out in each of the last two provincial women's finals and they'd be coming into this event as two-time defending Manitoba champions if their opponents in those last two finals had been anyone other than Cathy Overton-Clapham in 2011 and Jennifer Jones last year.
But as good as Carey and company were, Overton-Clapham and Jones were even better in the last two finals and Carey comes into this week instead as a hard-luck tale of a two-time provincial final loser. Three times a charm? Mike McEwen thought it might be in last year's Manitoba men's final -- and then he promptly lost his third final in a row.
-- The other one: Cathy Overton-Clapham (4-1) -- A fan favourite and five-time Canadian champion, Overton-Clapham and her young squad have limped through a disastrous cashspiel season that's seen them win just $3,000 through seven events and head into this weekend 63rd on the World Curling Tour money list.
The struggles prompted a position switch that will see Ashley Howard move from second to third this month, while Jenna Loder moves from third to second. That switch might help, but the real story this week will be at the skip position, where Overton-Clapham has shown in previous years she can win an entire event almost through the sheer force of her will.
-- Dark horse: Jill Thurston (8-1) -- Thurston won this event as a skip in 2010 and has the same third this year in Kristen Phillips. The bad news is she comes in off an inconsistent cashspiel season. "It's been fair to partly cloudy," Thurston joked Wednesday. "We've had moments of brilliance and we've had moments of just sheer stupidity."
The good news is the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you've got a problem.
-- The former champs: Janet Harvey, Barb Spencer (10-1) -- Both women are multiple former Manitoba champions and Spencer, in particular, is still capable of surprising at this event -- witness her semifinal performance just last year. Still, they'd need everything to go right -- and that seldom happens in a sport like curling.
-- The pack: Darcy Robertson, Karen Fallis, Michelle Montford (15-1) -- Robertson and Fallis are both veteran former champions with long experience, while Montford has youthful exuberance and almost no experience.
-- The rest: Stacey Fordyce, Liza Park, Lisa Menard, Charlene Norquay, Katherine Cameron, Colleen Kilgallen, Deb McCreanor (25-1)
-- Prediction: Jennifer Jones can win this event on her own, but I think this one is won at the third position. A new zen-like Kristy Jenion won me over on Tuesday. Namaste, ladies.
Carey 7 Jones 4
2013 Manitoba Scotties
Tournament of Hearts at the Stonewall Veterans Memorial Centre -- today until Sunday
Saturday: 1 vs 1 game @ 8:30 p.m., Sportsnet West and Pacific
Sunday: Semifinal @ noon, Sportsnet One; Final @ 5 p.m., Sportsnet One
Wednesday -- 8:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 4 p.m., 7:15 p.m. (opening ceremonies), 8:15 p.m.
Thursday and Friday -- 8:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 4 p.m., 7:45 p.m.
Saturday (round robin) -- 8:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m.
Saturday (playoffs) -- 4 p.m., 7:45 p.m., 8:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m. (depending on tiebreakers)
Sunday -- 8:15 a.m. (if 3 tiebreakers necessary), Noon (semifinal), 5 p.m. (Final)
1. Jennifer Jones, St, Vital
2. Chelsea Carey, Fort Rouge
3. Cathy Overton-Clapham, Fort Rouge
4. Barb Spencer, Assiniboine
5. Janet Harvey, Assiniboine
6. Darcy Robertson, Fort Rouge
7. Jill Thurston, Granite
8. Michelle Montford, Assiniboine
9. Katherine Cameron, Stonewall
10. Karen Fallis, Wildewood
11. Colleen Kilgallen, Pinawa
12. Deb McCreanor, La Salle
13. Liza Park, Brandon
14. Stacey Fordyce, Brandon
15. Lisa Menard, Dauphin
16. Charlene Norquay, Burntwood