April 22nd, 2024

Homan into Tournament of Hearts final, Jones and Cameron to clash in semifinal

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on February 24, 2024.

Team Manitoba-Cameron skip Kate Cameron encourages her teammates as they play Team Alberta in Page playoffs at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY – Rachel Homan booked an express ticket to the Canadian women’s curling championship final with a 5-4 win in an extra end over Jennifer Jones in a playoff game Saturday night.

Jones needs a win over fellow-Manitoban Kate Cameron in Sunday afternoon’s semifinal to earn a rematch with Homan for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title at night in Calgary.

Cameron defeated Alberta’s Selena Sturmay 6-4 in an earlier elimination playoff game Saturday.

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 the last of her three championships in 2017 before losing three straight finals from 2019 to 2021.

Homan, third Tracy Fleury and the front end of Emma Miskew and Sarah Wilkes were 9-0 heading into Saturday’s clash with Jones, including a 7-5 win over the latter in pool play.

Homan didn’t allow a stolen point in the tournament until Saturday’s sixth and eighth ends, when Jones took a 4-3 lead.

Homan blanked the ninth end to take last-rock advantage into the 10th, when she forced an extra end beating Jones to the pin with a draw that brought people to their feet at WinSport Event Centre.

Jones’s attempt at a corner freeze with her first shot of the 11th was too heavy and she was unable to execute a tricky angle raise to score with her final shot.

The six-time champion has said she’ll retire from team curling at the end of this season. The 49-year-old can become the first woman to win seven championships before she’s done.

Her team could return next year as defending champions without her, as long as it retains the three remaining members under Curling Canada rules.

The two-time world champion and 2014 Olympic gold medallist stepped to the helm of a young team of curlers almost half her age in 2022 and guided it to last year’s Hearts final in Kamloops, B.C.

Jones, Karlee Burgess, Mackenzie Zacharias and Lauren Lenentine lost to Kerri Einarson, who claimed a fourth straight Canadian championship. Emily Zacharias drew in this season for her sister on a curling hiatus.

Jones, Homan and Einarson have long been the big three in Canadian women’s curling.

Cameron wormed her way into that conversation at this year’s Hearts when she halted Einarson’s run of consecutive titles with a playoff victory Friday night.

“I hope, but we put this team together knowing this was a building year, so I’m happy we’re moving forward right now,” Cameron said. “We’re looking big picture. We’re looking to peak next year and then the year after into the (Olympic) trials.”

A national title was tantalizingly close just two wins away, however.

“That would be wicked,” Cameron said. “We can do that if we keep playing well.”

Host Alberta topped its pool at 7-1, but exited on back-to-back playoff losses.

Second Dezaray Hawes was the only player with previous Hearts experience as Sturmay, third Danielle Schmiemann and lead Paige Paipley made their debuts in Calgary.

Sturmay’s teammates held their own against Cameron with accuracy percentages in the 90-per-cent range, but Sturmay struggled to hold her shooter in the rings when she had chances to hit for two.

“Honestly, it sucks that I didn’t have a good game,” said the 25-year-old skip. “I feel it was probably the worst game all week, but that’s just curling. You’re good some times and not good other times. It’s just unfortunate it came out in this game.”

Cameron brought the experience of six Hearts appearances playing third, but the 32-year-old from New Bothwell, Man., skipped a team this season for the first time in a decade.

“She’s a fierce, but calm leader of our team,” said third Meghan Walter.

Regular second Taylor McDonald in advanced pregnancy was replaced before the Tournament of Hearts by Kelsey Roque, a career skip and two-time world junior champion.

Lead Mackenzie Elias rounds out the foursome that gained entry to the national championship as the highest-ranked, non-qualified women’s team in Canada this season at No. 7. They finished third in Manitoba’s provincial championship.

“All season we’ve had bumps in the road. I played the first half of the season with barely any vision,” Cameron said. “Taylor has been playing pregnant, which has been a challenge for her throughout.”

Cameron said eye laser surgery in August “went very wrong in my left eye, so I didn’t have vision in my left eye until about mid to end of October. I played four or five events without vision in my left eye.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2024.

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