April 24th, 2024

Homan, Jones inch closer to Tournament of Hearts crown, Einarson ousted

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on February 23, 2024.

Team Ontario–Homan skip Rachel Homan directs her teammates as they play Team Canada in qualifications at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY – The road to another Canadian women’s curling championship for Rachel Homan and Jennifer Jones shortened with playoff wins while Kerri Einarson’s bid for five straight titles came to an end Friday.

Homan and Jones, with a combined nine Scotties Tournament of Hearts crowns between them, will clash in Saturday’s playoff game between the top two seeds.

The victor banks an express ticket to Sunday evening’s final in Calgary. The loser must win Sunday’s semifinal to gain a rematch for the title.

Homan was unbeaten in nine games heading into Saturday, including a 7-5 win over Jones in pool play.

Homan’s Ontario foursome reached the Page playoff between the top two seeds with an 8-4 win over Einarson.

“You know that Jones will throw everything they have at us and we’re going to have to bring more than we brought today,” said Homan.

After falling 8-4 to Jones, Sturmay rebounded with an 8-5 win over Manitoba’s Kaitlyn Lawes in Friday evening’s playoff draw when Manitoba’s Kate Cameron also upset Einarson 9-4 to reach the final four.

Sturmay, whose Edmonton foursome features three Brier rookies, and Cameron meet in Saturday’s Page playoff between the third and fourth seeds with a spot in Sunday’s semifinal at stake.

“We’re definitely proud of ourselves for getting to the position that we’re in,” Sturmay said. “I don’t think that it was necessarily unexpected though. We are a new team, but we’re a good team.

“These girls have grinded it out all week with me and I think we’re just as capable of winning this whole thing as well.”

Cameron is playing in her seventh Hearts, but her first as skip. Her team earned a wild-card entry to this year’s Hearts as the highest-ranked, non-qualified team at No. 7 in Canada.

Cameron recruited Kelsey Rocque to fill in at second in Calgary because of Taylor McDonald’s pregnancy.

Cameron, Meghan Walter, Rocque and lead Mackenzie Elias won their last two round-robin games to take the third and final playoff sport in their pool.

“It’s a little surreal right now,” Cameron said. “I’m thankful to have the girls in front of me. Kelsey has been a wicked fill-in and I’m learning a lot from her as well. Having both Meg and Kelse as successful skips before has been a good booster for me here.”

Homan won the last of her three national titles in 2017. She dropped three straight finals to Einarson from 2020 to 2022 before an earlier exit last year in Kamloops, B.C.

“It’s been a few years since we’ve won a Scotties and I feel like we’re ready,” said Homan’s second Emma Miskew.

Homan continued to outcurl opposing skips by several percentage points Friday, with assistance from vice Tracy Fleury’s 90 per cent game.

“Rachel is playing amazing,” Miskew said. “She’s dialled right now. She can make any shot on the sheet and it’s impressive to watch.”

Jones, who has said this year’s Canadian women’s championship will be her last, inched closer to a record seventh career title. The two-time world champion and 2014 Olympic gold medallist is even with Colleen Jones at six.

“With Jenn retiring, it’s even more just trying to enjoy the moment for her and for the four of us,’ said Jones’ 25-year-old third Karlee Burgess.

“We are lucky to have this opportunity to play in Jenn’s last Scotties. Not a lot of people get to play with Jenn Jones. It’s really cool that we get to finish her career and hopefully finish on a high note.”

Jones, 49, has soaked in her swan song by routinely returning to the arena after post-game interviews to pose for photos and shake hands with fans.

“It’s the least I can do for everything everybody has done for me,” she said. “I’ll stay until three in the morning if I have to “¦ maybe if we don’t play the next morning.”

The winner of Sunday’s final represents Canada at the world championship March 16-24 in Sydney, N.S., and returns to the 2025 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as defending champion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2024.

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