Great expectations on the pebble Lawes’ return to skipping successful as she and teammate Njegovan compete while pregnant
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
It was more than 13 years ago when Kaitlyn Lawes skipped her junior team into the record books.
After scoring three in the 10th end to break a 4-4 tie with Ontario’s Rachel Homan in the 2009 Canadian Junior Women’s Curling final, Lawes became Manitoba’s first female skip to win back-to-back national junior titles.
Fast forward to this past weekend’s Grand Slam of Curling’s Boost National in North Bay, Ont., and Lawes, who has returned to throwing the final stones after 12 seasons at third for Jennifer Jones, found herself skipping against Homan in another crucial matchup.
Although, the stakes were nowhere near as high.
“Yeah, that feels like a long, long time ago,” Lawes said with a laugh in an interview with the Free Press on Tuesday.
“A lot has changed since I skipped back in juniors, specifically with the game advancing with different rules and different strategies. So, I’m glad I have that skipping experience in the past, but I feel like it’s completely different.”
One thing remained the same: the end result against Homan. After going 2-2 in round-robin action and outlasting Sweden’s Isabella Wranå 7-2 in a tiebreaker to qualify for the playoffs, Lawes took down Homan 8-4 in the quarterfinals. The game was tied at 4-4 before Lawes, who now plays with third Selena Njegovan, second Jocelyn Peterman and lead Kristin MacCuish, took the lead with a deuce in the sixth end, followed by a steal of two in the seventh.
The meeting with Homan also marked the first time Njegovan and MacCuish played against their former skip, Tracy Fleury. Fleury won the 2019 Manitoba Scotties with Njegovan, MacCuish and second Liz Fyfe. The group also reached the final of the 2021 Olympic curling trials before losing a heartbreaker to Jones.
“A lot has changed since I skipped back in juniors, specifically with the game advancing with different rules and different strategies.”–Kaitlyn Lawes
Fleury now predominantly throws third for Homan, but calls the game.
“Yeah, it was kind of weird with it being the first time playing them. Tracy’s a good friend and was a great teammate,” Njegovan said.
“So, it was something just to be aware of that it was going to feel a little different. But we put our personal feelings aside and came out and played against a team. It didn’t matter who was on the team, it was just we were playing against eight rocks.”
Lawes would go on to drop the semi-final to the eventual tournament winners, Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni. Tirinzoni swept the Manitoba rinks as she took down Jones in the quarters and then beat Kerri Einarson in Sunday’s championship to take a cheque for $35,000 back to Europe.
Lawes and Co. didn’t get the ending in North Bay that they were hoping for, but they are enjoying some early success this season. The No. 3-ranked team in the world has reached at least the semifinals in all four of their events in 2022, including last month’s Oslo Cup in Norway where they finished in second after losing the final to world No. 1 Anna Hasselborg of Sweden.
“I’m really proud of this team. We have set some lofty goals, but at the same time we have a huge focus on learning our new positions and learning how we interact with each other and what kind of team we are,” Lawes said.
“So, to have the results come early is just a bonus.”
Lawes is playing at an elite level while pregnant with her first child. Lawes is 32 weeks into her pregnancy and hopes to play at least two more events before stepping away from the ice and staying close to home for November and December. Njegovan will handle skipping duties when Lawes is away. The team hasn’t revealed who will be their fourth player during that stretch.
“I’m really proud of this team. We have set some lofty goals, but at the same time we have a huge focus on learning our new positions and learning how we interact with each other and what kind of team we are.”–Kaitlyn Lawes
Lawes fully intends on being back in time for the Manitoba Scotties in East St. Paul in late January.
“I’ve heard draw weight is better when you’re pregnant. I don’t know if that’s a rumour or not, but I heard that years ago,” Lawes said. “But I feel good on the ice so far. I haven’t noticed anything that’s changed that much other than my setup in the hack. When I’m cleaning my rock, I can tell I have a belly in front of me, but once I’m in my slide and delivery, I’m just focusing on the shot.”
Njegovan, who’s married to fellow curler Connor Njegovan, is taking notes as the couple’s first child is also on the way.
“She hasn’t skipped a beat. She is playing amazing. It’s something to really look up to as I’m 16 weeks now,” said Njegovan. “So, I’ve been kind of picking her brain and hoping that I can be at that same level when I’m at 32 weeks. But we’ll see. Everyone’s different. But I’m super proud of her and how she’s been able to keep to her amazing shotmaking.”
Despite making it deep into all of their events thus far, the match that everyone’s itching to see, Lawes vs. Jones, is yet to happen. Both teams will be at the Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge in Grande Prairie, Alta., (Oct. 18-23). If they don’t meet in the coming events, they’re a lock to square off at provincials in what will be a stacked field featuring the likes of Chelsea Carey, Beth Peterson and Abby Ackland.
“I look forward to that matchup. I know it’ll be a lot of fun and I’m sure there will be a lot of fans’ eyes on that game,” said Lawes. “To me, you’re just playing against another team. I’m sure Jen and I will have lots of laughs and share some stories behind the sheet.”
Team Jones welcomes new coach
Jennifer Jones has welcomed one of Canada’s most decorated curlers of all time to her team.
Ontario’s Glenn Howard, who’s 60 and still competing on the men’s tour, was revealed last week as the new head coach of Team Jones. Howard is taking over for Viktor Kjell, who joined Jones and her former rink in 2018. Kjell announced he’s moving on to pursue different coaching opportunities.
Einarson gearing up for new event
Team Kerri Einarson is preparing to represent Canada at the inaugural Pan Continental Curling Championships at Calgary’s WinSport Arena from Oct. 31-Nov. 6.
Einarson, as well as Brad Gushue on the men’s side, were chosen to represent the red and white as they are Canada’s reigning national champions.
The top five finishers will qualify their nations for the 2023 World Women’s Curling Championship in Sweden (March 18-26) and the 2023 World Men’s Curling Championship in Ottawa (April 1-9) from the Americas, Asia and Pacific regions. The women’s event features Canada, United States, Japan, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Australia. The men’s bracket features Canada, United States, Japan, China, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Brazil and New Zealand.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...