April 17th, 2024

Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones inch closer to Tournament of Hearts crown

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 both Ontario’s Rachel Homan and Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones shortened with their playoff victories Friday.

Those wins set up a Saturday meeting of two skips with a combined nine Scotties Tournament of Hearts crowns between them.

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

Six-time champion Jones, who has said this Tournament of Hearts will be her last, beat Alberta’s Selena Sturmay 8-4.

“This was a massive game for us and we’re pretty proud of ourselves,” Jones said.

Homan extended her unbeaten run in Calgary to 9-0 with an 8-4 doubling of defending champion Kerri Einarson.

Homan beat Jones 7-5 in pool play in an entertaining bout of tight, tough shots. The skip is expecting more of the same Saturday evening.

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

She turned Einarson’s missed double takeouts into three points in the seventh end and stole another point in the eighth to seize control of the game.

Einarson’s bid for a record fifth consecutive Canadian championship didn’t end with the loss, but the Manitoban faced a sudden-death playoff matchup Friday evening against provincial counterpart Kate Cameron.

Edmonton’s Sturmay had the same scenario against Manitoba’s Kaitlyn Lawes. The winners of the late playoff draw advanced to Saturday afternoon’s Page playoff between the third and fourth seeds with a semifinal berth at stake.

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.

“Last year, we lost a sudden-death elimination game and it was a tough pill to swallow, so it’s really nice to kind of have a second life now,” said Homan’s second Emma Miskew.

“It’s been a few years since we’ve won a Scotties and I feel like we’re ready.”

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 dialed right now. She can make any shot on the sheet and it’s impressive to watch.”

Jones inched closer to a record seventh career title. The two-time world champion and 2014 Olympic silver medallist is even with Colleen Jones at six.

Jennifer Jones has soaked up 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 49-year-old continued to produce show-stopper shots with a long raise hit to score three in Friday’s third end.

“With Jenn retiring, it’s even more just trying to enjoy the moment for her and for the four of us,’ said 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.”

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.

Homan won a world title in 2017, as well as a silver medal and a bronze in two other appearances.

“We’ve put everything we can into training and trying to get back here and trying to represent Canada hopefully,” Homan said. “There’s so many amazing teams here. It’s sport. You never know what’s going to happen.

“All the amazing games we’ve had this week, I know Canada’s going to have a great representative.”

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

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