Jones still at top of her game
Curling legend leads new rink to tie at top of Scotties table; faces co-leader Lawes on Saturday
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She may be a living legend but there is nothing past tense about Jennifer Jones. Manitoba’s top curlers are still playing catch-up.
The veteran skip, a six-time national Scotties winner, motored to her sixth straight victory at the provincial women’s curling championship with a 12-4 triumph in seven ends over Assiniboine Memorial’s Darcy Robertson as championship-round play began Friday night.
The win pushed Jones and her Altona teammates into a first-place tie at 6-0 with Fort Rouge’s Kaitlyn Lawes.
Jones has games against No. 5-seeded Beth Peterson of Assiniboine Memorial and Lawes on Saturday to complete the championship round, with the top three teams advancing to Sunday’s playoffs.
Lawes, seeded No. 1, scored four in the sixth end and three more in the ninth to thump Abby Ackland of East St. Paul, 12-7.
Peterson, a 6-5 winner over Lisa McLeod late Friday, improved to 5-1 and with Lawes and Jones, appeared to be in the driver’s seat for one Sunday’s three playoff spots.
Jones sent a ripple through the sport last March when she disbanded her old team to join forces with defending Manitoba champion Mackenzie Zacharias’s team.
The move, which resulted in Mackenzie Zacharias moving to second and Karlee Burgess at third and Emily Zacharias at lead, has paid off brilliantly.
“The chemistry has been really good,” said Jones. “We have a ton of respect for each other and for a new team, I really think the chemistry was actually easier than we all thought it was going to be. We’re having a lot of fun together.”
The 48-year-old’s leadership also appears to have been a very good fit with youngsters Mackenzie Zacharias, 23, Burgess, 24, and Emily Zacharias, 21, and the team’s 21-year-old alternate, Lauren Lenentine, who subbed for Emily on Friday night.
“I don’t feel older than them when I’m around them. They’re just super mature and I’m very young for my age,” said Jones with a smile. “They’re just great people and really easy to be around. They’re very serious about curling and they want to be the best they can, so it’s been great.”
Mackenzie Zacharias admitted the whole scenario feels more normal now.
“The relationship has grown over time for sure,” she said. “I mean, at the beginning, it was like, this is Jennifer Jones, we were pretty well in awe (of her), but she’s such a great human being. And so now to get to call her my friend and my mentor, it’s been really special. She’s just been so great for all of us.”
A quick start in 2023 is a far cry from 2022 when the Altona team limped to a 3-2 start before surging to four consecutive games and its first provincial women’s crown.
“Last year was more of a grind as we like to call it, where we couldn’t really lose anymore,” said Mackenzie Zacharias. “And this year, we were thinking about it the same way — we don’t want to lose, we want to keep that momentum in our favour and keep playing.
“We’re gonna play a lot of great teams in the next round here so we’re gonna have to play good and hopefully we can just keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
The championship round continues Saturday with draws at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. A tiebreaker, if necessary, would be played at 8 p.m. with the three best teams moving into Sunday’s playoffs.
Sunday’s semifinal is slated for 9:30 a.m. The final goes at 2 p.m.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.