Watling looks to build on 2022 success

Last year’s Scotties runner-up not worried by early draw loss


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Kristy Watling took a bold step forward a year ago, advancing to the provincial women’s curling championship final before losing to Altona’s Mackenzie Zacharias in the title game.

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Kristy Watling took a bold step forward a year ago, advancing to the provincial women’s curling championship final before losing to Altona’s Mackenzie Zacharias in the title game.

The East St. Paul skip and her team won’t be sneaking up on anyone at this week’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

The Watling crew surrendered five in the second end and three more in each of the fifth and seventh ends en route to a 12-8 loss to Portage la Prairie’s Lisa McLeod during the Wednesday afternoon draw at the East St. Paul Arena.

“I don’t think it really damages our chances too much,” said Watling between draws. “If anything, it’s almost better for us as an underdog. I don’t think people are expecting us to do well. We know what we’re capable of — making the final last year and trying to build off that — so we’ve just got to get things rolling and just make a couple more shots here and there.”

Watling, who faced the No. 2-seeded Jennifer Jones team with the aforementioned Zacharias playing second in Wednesday’s late draw, was unbeaten in last year’s opening round at the provincials.

“Obviously, you never want to give up five in provincials, but if you’re gonna give up five, it’s good to do it early,” said Watling, 27. “It was back and forth, and scoring a couple of threes with hammer was nice, but we just couldn’t seem to keep them down for too long. They just kept scoring big ends on us.”

Watling’s team made only one change in the off-season, replacing third Hailey Ryan with Laura Burtnyk, while Emilie Rafnson and Sarah Pyke return as second and lead, respectively.

“You’ve got the big names — you’ve got (Kaitlyn) Lawes, you’ve got Jones — they’re hands down the favourites,” said Watling. “I think the pressure is all on them. We’re just kind of there to play our game and do our thing.”

Burtnyk, coming over from Darcy Robertson’s team, likes her team’s attitude and potential for success.

“It was just time for a change and Kristy’s team reached out to me and with them making the final last year I thought that was a pretty sweet offer,” said Burtnyk. “I couldn’t turn it down.”

Burtnyk wasn’t rattled by the early loss.

“We’ve always been an aggressive team and like lots of rocks in play, so big scores tend to be what happens when you do that,” said Burtnyk. “It’s only a five-game round-robin, so every game is important. Dropping one early just makes the next one that much more important to win.”

Watling answered with three in each of the third and sixth ends and the roller-coaster momentum felt a bit unsettling for McLeod.

“It was a little different than we’re used to,” said the 35-year-old McLeod, who skipped Miami’s Jennifer Clark-Rouire team to a 0-5 showing at last year’s Scotties. “But we really expected a lot of rocks in play against them. We were trying not to get into too much trouble but yeah, there were a lot of wacky scores in there…

“It’s really hard to play up that much early in a game with this with all the new rules — no-tick rule and the five-rock rule. It’s really hard to maintain a lead, whereas we used to play more defensively. In that case, you just can’t anymore.”

McLeod had planned to concentrate on mixed curling this season after giving birth to her second child in August, but heeded a call to replace Rhonda Varnes in late November. Her team, with third Janelle Lach, second Hallie McCannell and lead Jolene Callum on board, won the Manitoba Curling Tour Championship in Carberry to qualify for provincials.

“It’s just such a new team, right?” said McLeod, who was slated to face Carberry’s Alyssa Calvert late Wednesday. “A totally new dynamic. And so when we were playing Watling, we knew that we had the capability of winning but we just needed to execute.

“We knew they were very good team because of their great season, too. We just had to play free and loose and we really want to do that against them and then kind of anything could happen.”

It would be folly to count out the Watling team, which is playing at home this week.

“I think playing in (last year’s) final was huge for us as a team,” said Watling. “I think we learned a lot from that game. We took some time off after that final and then after a month or two we went and we watched it a couple times and went over what we could do better and what we can improve on. So I think, if anything. it definitely helped us a lot. When we’re in that situation again, we know how to better prepare ourselves.”

“This is a very special tournament for us,” said Watling. “We’ve been wanting to play here for years.”

No. 1 seed Lawes of Fort Rouge completed her opening day with a 2-0 record and sole possession top spot in Asham Black Group after a 9-2 triumph over Assiniboine Memorial’s Beth Peterson.

The top three finishers in the Asham Black Group and Asham Express Red Group will advance to the championship round with the three best teams moving into Sunday’s playoffs.

Action continues Thursday with draws at 8:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Day passes are available for $50 each with last draw entrance costing $20. An event pass can be had for $175.


Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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