Scotties to take over Stonewall

The 2013 Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the women’s provincial curling championship, will start Wednesday at the Veterans Memorial Sports Complex in Stonewall. The winner of the 16-team tournament will represent Manitoba at the 2013 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Kingston next month.

Looking at the top four seeds it appears to be, to quote Talking Heads, “same as it ever was.” The top four seeds are the same teams in the same positions as last year. However, every season is different and a provincial championship can go a long way to determining if a team will gain a berth in either the Olympic Pre-Trials event in Kitchener come November, or the Olympic Trials in Winnipeg the following December.

Despite losing their skip due to knee surgery and giving birth to a baby daughter, the Jennifer Jones team was still named the #1 seed by Curl Manitoba, and for good reason. Jones’ third, Kaitlyn Lawes, took over skipping duties and the team did not miss a beat. The Canadian Curling Association ranks  the team second in the nation, only behind Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton rink. Most of it is due to their win at The Shoot-Out in Edmonton last October, and finals appearances at both the Red Deer Curling Classic and the Canada Cup of Curling. Jones’ first tournament this year was at the Continental Cup of Curling in Penticton earlier this month. They did not lose in team play and Jones herself shot a decent 78 per cent. At this point it’s hard to tell if Jones is showing any rust, but right now she and her team are playing well.

The #2 seed is the Chelsea Carey rink out of Morden, and it is a position they hope not to repeat this year. They have lost the last two provincial finals, including a last-rock defeat to Jones last year in Beausejour. Yet, the team has already bettered their last year on the World Curling Tour (WCT). The team has been on a roll since November, reaching three finals including defeating the Lawes-led Jones team in Red Deer. The team is ranked #4 nationally, and if the season ended today, they would gain a berth in the Olympic Trials. Third time may be the charm.

Unlike Carey, it has been a tough year for #3 seed Cathy Overton-Clapham. The 12-time Manitoba and five-time Canadian champion has only won $3,000 this season and her team is ranked 63rd in the WCT money list behind seven other Manitoba teams. After reaching the semi-final in The Shoot-Out, they have not reached the playoffs since. Her season has raised the question whether or not her team should be included in a women’s “Top Three” with Jones and Carey, but Overton-Clapham has the experience to win another provincial title.

The #4 seed and three-time Manitoba champion Barb Spencer finished at the top of her group in last year’s Manitoba Scotties ahead of Jones, but lost both her playoff games. This year, she has won more money than Overton-Clapham and claimed her fourth Manitoba Curling Tour championship. She has also beaten Carey earlier this season and her team should not be overlooked as a contender.

Other teams include #5 seed and three-time Manitoba champion Janet Harvey, Spencer’s sister Darcy Robertson, and 2010 champion Jill Thurston, all of whose teams are successful on the MCT. For the first time in years, there will be a hometown team at the Manitoba Scotties featuring Stonewall’s Kate Cameron rink. They have beaten Thurston and Robertson this year, and two of their players were part of Kelsey Boettcher’s team who upset Jones in the round robin last year.

Same as it ever was? Maybe not.