Jennifer Jones had the perfect word to sum up her second straight improbable run to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title.
“Unbelievable,” Jones said after skipping Canada to an 8-5 win over B.C.’s Marla Mallett in Sunday night’s final. “I can’t believe that we’ve now won three, and (third Cathy Overton-Clapham) has won four…it’s unbelievable.”
With the same precision shot-making that made them darlings of the curling world in 2008, the Jones foursome earned a second straight Canadian women’s curling championship against a B.C. rink that led the round robin with an 8-3 record. Jones, Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin are the sixth team to repeat as champion, and the second straight after B.C.’s Kelly Scott won back-to-back titles in 2006-07.
Mallett fell just short in her quest to become the first hometown skip to win the title since B.C.’s Kelley Law did it in 2000.
“Of course it’s very disappointing, but we did have a great week,” said Mallett. “We learned a lot, and we’ll bring it back next year.”
The Jones and Mallett rinks exchanged clutch shots for the first six ends, before a slight miscue from Mallett handed Jones a three-point lead she wouldn’t relinquish.
With B.C. sitting one, Jones made a takeout and Mallett followed the same path, but left her shooter too far from the button. Jones played a hit-and-roll on another B.C. stone to lie two, and Mallett was light with her final shot to give Canada a critical steal of two.
“A little soft out of my hand, that’s as simple as it was,” Mallett said. “On this ice, if you let it out soft, it’s gonna grab the curl and go. And that’s what happened.”
The teams exchanged single points over the next two ends before Jones ran Mallett out of rocks, leaping into the air as her final shot slid down the sheet.
“I dreamed of this as a little kid, and to do it with this team … we work so hard at the game, and we put so much into it,” said Jones, who was named most valuable player for her performance in the playoffs. “It’s so very special for us.”
Jones will likely spend a little extra time savouring this win, considering how close she was to missing the playoffs altogether.
After opening with five straight wins, Jones went into a tailspin, losing four of her next five games and needing a win against Mallett to even reach the tiebreaker. She got it – earning a 6-5 win on a tricky draw to the eight-foot with her final shot – but a return to the final was no gimme.
Canada squeaked out a 6-5 win in the tiebreaker when P.E.I.’s Robyn MacPhee watched her final shot twirl less than a centimetre away from victory. Jones followed with an equally nerve-wracking 8-6 win over Stefanie Lawton in Saturday’s 3-versus-4 Page playoff game after outdrawing a pair of Saskatchewan stones by a fraction.
A 12-8 victory over Quebec in Saturday night’s semifinal came only after Jones squandered a 5-0 lead to Marie-France Larouche.
“The satisfying part is that we just had so many bad breaks early in the week,” said Jones. “We weren’t playing bad. But we never got down, and we always dig deep, and we played great in the playoffs.
“We played outstanding today. I thought they played well, and we were just a little bit better.”
It’s the exact same path Jones took to the 2008 championship, where she finished with eight consecutive victories – including a 6-4 decision over Alberta’s Shannon Kleibrink in the final – after getting off to a 3-4 start.
Sunday’s final was more wide-open than most people expected, given that Mallett was notorious for her ultra-defensive style of play. After Jones earned a steal of one point in the first end, the teams traded two-point ends until the sixth, when Mallett earned a blank.
Canada responded with the big steal, then played some sensational defence of its own – highlighted by an Officer triple peel in the ninth end – to stifle any chance of a B.C. comeback.
For Mallett, third Grace MacInnes, second Diane Gushulak and lead Jacalyn Brown, the loss was a disappointing end to an impressive week. But they’ll still come away with plenty of points in the Canadian Team Ranking System, which will be used to determine which teams qualify for the Olympic pre-trials in Prince George, B.C., and the trials in Edmonton later this year.
“We’ll go and have a look at the week went, and pull what we need to pull out of it and use that in Prince George,” said Mallett.
With Sunday’s win, Jones will have a chance to defend the world championship she won last year in Vernon, B.C. This year’s world championship will be held Mar. 21-29 in Gangneung, South Korea.
“I’m sure it probably won’t live up to Vernon, but I don’t think anything could,” said Jones, who has already qualified for the Olympic trials. “But it’s a huge honour to represent Canada. We can’t wait to go.”
Notes: The 11 wins earned by Jones at the Scotties moved her into third all-time among skips with 61. Jones passed Alberta’s Kathy King, Sandra Schmirler of Saskatchewan and New Brunswick’s Heidi Hanlon with her performance at this year’s tournament, and trails only Nova Scotia’s Colleen Jones (116) and fellow Manitoban Connie Laliberte (76) on the all-time list. … The final drew 4,809 fans to the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, bringing the tournament total to 70,218. … Next year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts will be held in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.