Jones can win with anybody
Skip wins ninth provincial women’s title with brand new crew
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EAST ST. PAUL — Jennifer Jones and her crew of twentysomething rock stars completed an unbeaten run at the provincial women’s curling championship Sunday afternoon.
But going 9-0, capped by a coolly efficient 10-5, eight-end triumph in the final over Abby Ackland, could be only a starting point for the Jones team, which heads to Kamloops, B.C., next month for the national Scotties championship.
“Bring it on,” said third Karlee Burgess in the aftermath of victory at the East St. Paul Arena. “It just makes me more excited — having Jen, having the crowd, having our families there. It’s just going to make it better for all of us.”
Last March, the two-time world champion skip joined the existing squad of Burgess, second Mackenzie Zacharias and lead Emily Zacharias, and alternate Lauren Lenentine to form a juggernaut looking to repeat as Manitoba champs, just as the Altona-based team had done in 2022.
The second-seeded team was superb all week, vanquishing the top-seeded Kaitlyn Lawes and a determined bid from the third-seeded Ackland en route to the title.
“The girls played as good as I’ve ever seen them play,” said the 48-year-old Jones after winning her ninth provincial championship. “They were on fire. They made everything. They made it real easy for me. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Jones broke open a close game with a hit for two in the fifth end to grab a 6-3 lead. She stole two more in the sixth, Ackland countered with two in the seventh before Jones closed things out with a draw for two points in the eighth.
“This was our best game all week for sure,” said Burgess. “It was nice to have the morning off and just kind of regroup as a team and just know that the team we’re playing, whether it was Lawes or Ackland, they were gonna come out and be on fire. So we just had to be our best and we did, so I’m very grateful.”
Burgess said Jones fired up the team with a pre-game pep talk.
“I think she’s really helped us all technically and mentally,” said Burgess. “We’ve learned so much from her and going into this game we just had so much confidence with Jen and where she puts the broom — things like that just make a big difference in a final game.”
Ackland’s path to the final was built on a four-game winning streak, culminating with an 8-5 win over the top-seeded Lawes in semifinal action Sunday morning.
In a Saturday tiebreaker, the Ackland team, skipped by Meghan Walter, toppled Assiniboine Memorial’s Beth Peterson 9-3.
“We didn’t play sharp,” said Walter, a 20-year-old from East St. Paul, after the final. “Off the bat, we had some (misses) and that just isn’t what you can get in a game against Jennifer Jones.
“It’s been a long week. I mean, this was our, what, 11th game? We had a lot of adrenalin going into it, but sometimes we just got a little tired. It was a good week, overall. Our goal was to make the final, and we did that.”
Not all was lost, though.
Ackland, who entered the event rated seventh in the Canadian Team Ranking System, will be going to the 18-team national championship as a wild card, joining Jones as well as fourth-rated Lawes and reigning national champ Kerri Einarson of Gimli. Lawes will also go as a wild-card team.
Walter gave the champs their due.
“It’s Jennifer Jones, so she’s a pretty good team,” said Walter, whose third Abby Ackland, second Sara Oliver and lead Mackenzie Elias are all in their 20s. “The Zacharias team has come out of juniors very hot themselves. It’s just another team, though. We kind of can’t take them all lightly, and we don’t when we play them in the Manitoba Scotties.”
Jones and company were energized throughout the week.
“We just stayed consistent all the way through and I guess we just all came together and having Em and Lauren rotate really helped us having a fresh sweeper on the ice every other game,” added Burgess. “So overall, it was just like a really great week.”
The national Scotties, slated for Feb. 17-26, will have fans in the building for the first time in three years.
The original Zacharias team members will be making their third consecutive trip to nationals, going as a wild card in 2021 and as provincial champs in 2022.
“We’ve definitely going (there) to win,” said Burgess. “We’d love the opportunity to play in the final game but we’re going to take it one game at a time and see what happens. But we’re really looking forward to it — it’s actually our third time back. So this time we’re going to make some moves.
Lawes, who opened as the event’s top seed and went 7-0 before losing to Jones Saturday and Ackland Sunday morning, said having a wild-card berth in the national Scotties took the sting out of the loss.
“Honestly, we’re just super proud, being a new team (and) getting as many games as we can at a provincial championship,” said Lawes, who returned to competition less than a month after giving birth to her first child, Myla Joye, on Dec. 16. “Obviously, we wanted to be in that final and have a chance to represent Manitoba.
“But we know we have a wild-card spot. So we’ve been kind of playing pretty light and loose this whole week. I mean, I’m six weeks post-partum, so I’m just happy to get lots of games in. Overall, I felt like I had a really good week. I’m a little fatigued, but that’s to be expected with a newborn.”
In a pivotal ninth end, Lawes was heavy with a draw that allowed Ackland to steal one for a 7-5 lead.
“I just wasn’t as sharp,” said Lawes. “I missed a couple early, and the game was still really close. It should have been tied playing the last end. But we didn’t have the last rock, so we were just kind of behind a little bit early and just had to claw back.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.