Decorated skip, new mom makes quick return to pebble

Lawes perfect at Scotties, so far


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Kaitlyn Lawes was just being herself Thursday morning.

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Kaitlyn Lawes was just being herself Thursday morning.

A team leader already more than a decade into an elite curling career that had taken her to three Olympics and eight national championship appearances, the 34-year-old Winnipegger expertly directed her Fort Rouge team to an 8-4 victory over Granite’s Katy Lukowich at the East St. Paul Arena.

By day’s end, following an 8-6 win over Assiniboine Memorial’s Darcy Robertson, the No. 1-seeded Lawes was sitting alone atop the Asham Black Group at the provincial women’s curling championship with a 4-0 record.

Almost inconceivably, Lawes was taking aim at her first provincial women’s title as a skip only 41 days after giving birth to her first child, daughter Myla Joye, on Dec. 16.

“I think she’s an amazing athlete,” said lead Kristin MacCuish, one of her newest teammates. “She’s really in shape and she’s really dedicated to it. She’s put a lot of hard work into it. I think that it just comes naturally for her and she knows not to push the limits.”

For Lawes, skipping her own crew after years of success as a third on Jennifer Jones’ Hall of Fame team, returning to the game after a nine-week absence from competition (Joanne Courtney and Laura Walker filled in while she was away) always came with some uncertainty.

She had a deliberate plan to smooth out the bumps, however, starting with a training program that took her and the 30-year-old MacCuish to Morris’s Carghill Curling Training Centre in July and August until ice became available locally in September.

“I curled or was practising till 39 weeks,” said Lawes, who returned to competition at a Grand Slam event less than a month after Myla Joye’s arrival. “I mean, I’ve watched my previous teammates on my old team play after their pregnancies — Jennifer (Jones), Jill (Officer) and Dawn (McEwen) — and it takes a village to be able to get back on the ice and have that support. As long as you’re physically feeling OK and mentally OK, then I think it’s great to get back.”

The transition to a new team — she was also joined by third Selena Njegovan, second Jocelyn Peterman and fifth Jill Officer — required Lawes to make mental and physical adjustments.

“I wanted to stay on the ice with my changing body and just be able to play some events in the fall with the girls and also going into new position, I knew I’d have different shots as skip,” said Lawes. “I wanted to just try and get into a skip mentality and practise that in the summer.”

The newly constituted Team Lawes also needed to be prepared to adjust on the fly. So, just prior to the start of the Provincial Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Njegovan, due in March, concluded she would be unable to play due to the demands of her pregnancy.

As such, the 29-year-old Peterman assumed Njegovan spot at third while Officer, 47, slid into a familiar second position and the team hasn’t looked back.

“All year our mindset and motto has been adaptability and just going with the flow and so no, I don’t think we’re surprised with our performance because we were able to perform well earlier in the season, too, with those changes,” said Peterman, who coincidentally is due to give birth in June. “So it’s kind of fun. We’re all getting to try new things.”

Njegovan is content to be a spectator this week.

“When I was first pregnant we thought I’d be able to play this week and even possibly the national Scotties if everything went well, but not quite,” said Njegovan. “I was pretty upset, but knew this was the right decision — for myself, for the team and for the baby.”

Lawes’ time away was never on a strict timetable. It just happened.

“I’m just happy I was able to have such a great recovery,” she said. “I wasn’t going to push it and try and be back as soon as I was but I was feeling good and the girls were super supportive… The main thing was I wanted to make sure that I was fully recovered and not playing through any pain and yeah, I’m very lucky that I was able to come back as soon as I was.”

“She was playing really well and in great shape kind of right up until until she had Myla so it’s not surprising, it’s awesome, added Peterman. “She’s doing great and she’s been rock star…

“It’s kind of fun that we’re all doing it together and Kaitlyn’s leading the way, so she’s giving us lots of tips and tricks… and Jill as well,” said Peterman. “We have lots of great role models in the sport who have done it before so it’s kind of nice to pick their brains.”

Elsewhere Thursday, Lisa McLeod of Portage edged Abby Ackland of East St. Paul 9-8 in the 12:15 draw to improve to 3-0, setting up a colossal late Asham Express Red Group match-up with Jennifer Jones of St. Vital/Altona. Jones, seeded second, upended Carberry’s Alyssa Calvert, 11-3, to reach 3-0.

Action continues Friday with preliminary round draws at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The top three finishers in the Asham Black Group and Asham Express Red Group will advance to the championship round beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The championship round continues with draws at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday. The three best teams will move into Sunday’s playoffs.

Day passes are available for $50 each with last draw entrance costing $20.

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

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

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