December 5, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
She's had knee surgery, delivered a baby and, until she finally made her return last weekend, hadn't thrown a rock in a competitive curling game in 10 months.
But such is the long shadow that Jennifer Jones casts on women's curling in this province that even against that unlikely backdrop, her fellow competitors have still anointed Jones and her foursome as the team most likely to win next week's Manitoba women's curling championship.
Jones and her team -- third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin -- were announced by Curl Manitoba on Wednesday morning as the top seed for the 2013 Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which begins next Wednesday in Stonewall.
The Jones foursome was followed in the seedings -- which are voted upon by the competitors -- by second seed Chelsea Carey, third seed Cathy Overton-Clapham, fourth seed Barb Spencer and fifth seed Janet Harvey.
Jones -- a five-time Manitoba champion, four-time Canadian champion and the 2008 world champion -- played in her first competitive curling event of the 2012-13 season only last weekend, when she skipped her team at the 2013 Continental Cup in Penticton.
Officer said her skip was in mid-season form in B.C. despite the lengthy absence away from the game.
"Jen played great," said Officer. "She had great draw weight. It was awesome to have her back on the ice. It was like she'd never left."
Carey, whose squad has lost the last two provincial finals in dramatic fashion, was asked if recent heartbreaks at the provincials help or hinder her squad heading into next week.
"Probably neither," she said. "At the end of the day, if you're thinking about what happened last year, you're not where you need to be."
"You have to put that all away and not focus on it at all. It's easier said than done, but if I'm thinking about things that happened to me before, there's no way I'm going to play the way I need to play. That's mental toughness, it's being in the zone.
"So the idea is we won't think about it at all, or at least minimize it as much as possible."
Carey was the only one of the top-three-seeded skips to attend Wednesday's news conference, with Jones sending Officer in her place and Overton-Clapham dispatching second Ashley Howard.
The Overton-Clapham foursome have had a terrible cashspiel season.
They rank 63rd on the World Curling Tour money list, winning just $3,000 this winter despite competing in seven events -- including one in Switzerland earlier this month.
Still, Howard is hopeful her team can right the ship next week.
"We've been close in a lot of things, but the results just haven't come," said Howard. "We'll just hang with it and maybe the provincials will be where we break through."
In case you're wondering, Howard's famous father -- 2006 Olympic gold medallist and current TSN analyst Russ Howard -- will be in Stonewall for the duration next week watching his daughter's team.
And then there's a team like Harvey's, which doesn't curl nearly as much on the WCT as Jones, Carey and Overton-Clapham does, and yet still has the capacity to win, as evidenced by their runner-up performance in 2010.
"We obviously don't put as much time into the game as the other teams," said Harvey. "But we do make sure we play enough when we set our schedule at the start of the year. And then we try to peak at this time of the year."
The Scotties will be held Jan. 23-27 in Stonewall, with the winner advancing to represent Manitoba at the Canadian Womens Curling Championship next month in Kingston, Ont.
The final three playoff draws of the event will also be broadcast live by Sportsnet, with announcer Roger Millions and 1998 Olympic gold medallist Joan McCusker handling the play-by-play and analysis, respectively.
2013 Manitoba Scotties
Tournament of Hearts
Stonewall Curling Club Jan. 23-27
1 vs. 1 game, Saturday Jan. 26, 8:30 p.m., Sportsnet West and Pacific
Semifinal, Sunday, Jan. 27, noon, Sportsnet One
Final, Sunday, Jan. 27, 5 p.m., Sportsnet One
Curl Manitoba announced the seedings and draw on Wednesday morning for next week's Manitoba women's curling championship. Here's a snapshot of the top five seeds:
1. Jennifer Jones
The skip has played in just one event this season after taking the winter off to have a baby and recuperate from knee surgery. Still, it's hard to not to love the chances of a five-time Manitoba champion and four-time Canadian champion.
2. Chelsea Carey
Runner-up in each of the last two Manitoba women's curling championships, she and her team have paid their dues and seem destined to finally break through -- or go crazy trying.
3. Cathy Overton-Clapham
A living curling icon, she and her team have struggled mightily to find any traction on the cashspiel circuit this winter. The flip side is Overton-Clapham has always saved her very best for playdowns season anyway.
4. Barb Spencer
A Manitoba curling Hall of Famer and three-time provincial women's champion, Spencer made it all the way to the semifinals of last year's provincials before finally bowing out.
5. Janet Harvey
This same squad -- third Cherie-Ann Loder, second Kristin Loder and lead Carey Kirby -- lost the 2010 provincial women's final to Jill Thurston. Harvey, Cherie-Ann Loder and Kirby are also the 2006 Manitoba women's champions.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2013 D1