With glowing Hearts

The 2012 Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the women’s provincial curling championships, begins Jan. 25 at the Portage Credit Union Centre in Portage la Prairie. Sixteen teams will be competing for the chance to represent Manitoba at the national Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Red Deer next month. Curling fans will be paying closer attention to this year’s event as the field includes three of the top four teams in the Canadian Curling Association rankings.

The teams skipped by Jennifer Jones, Cathy Overton-Clapham and Chelsea Carey have played very well this season. Despite each having their own question marks going into the tournament, it is very likely one of them will wear the buffalo crest on their backs on Sunday.

After losing last year’s Scotties final to Saskatchewan’s Amber Holland, Jennifer Jones, who previously qualified for the Scotties as the reigning national champion, will now have to compete at a provincial Scotties for the first time since 2008. Her team currently holds commanding leads in both the CCA rankings and the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit.

Amazingly, their accomplishments were managed without long-time second Jill Officer, who missed part of the season due to pregnancy. Officer recently confirmed with the Winnipeg Free Press that she intends to participate in the provincial tournament.

After being unceremoniously dropped by the Jones team in 2010, Cathy Overton-Clapham formed and skipped her own team to victory in last year’s provincial championship. Despite winning the highly-anticipated match between her and Jones, “Cathy O” faltered with a 4-7 record at the Scotties. This year, they won an event in Calgary and are now third in the CCA rankings with two first-year members: second Ashley Howard — the daughter of curling legend Russ Howard — and third Jenna Loder, who won two Canadian Junior championships with current Jones third Kaitlyn Lawes.

While Overton-Clapham has experience in big events, Loder, Howard and lead Breanne Meakin are in their early-20s and experience may be a factor as the tournament goes on.

Last season, the Chelsea Carey team, out of the Morden Curling Club, broke onto the Canadian curling scene in a big way. The team finished fifth in the CCA rankings and was named the World Curling Tour’s Breakthrough Team of the Year. They also went undefeated at last year’s Manitoba Scotties before losing to Overton-Clapham in the final. This year, after a slow start, the team has won the Manitoba Curling Tour Championship, finished second at the Canada Cup of Curling, and now sits in fourth, according to the CCA.

A Manitoba championship would validate this team, and it would be especially significant for third Kristy McDonald. She had been runner-up in three Manitoba Scotties finals: two as a skip in 2005 and 2006 and last year as Carey’s third.

Former Manitoba champions Barb Spencer, Janet Harvey, and Jill Thurston are also competing. However, their teams have not had the same success as the “Big Three.” One thing is certain: this year’s Manitoba Scotties may be one to remember.