The most decorated skip in Manitoba curling history is one win away from capturing a ninth provincial women’s curling championship.
Jennifer Jones and her five-person team of Mackenzie Zacharias, Karlee Burgess, Emily Zacharias and Lauren Lenentine defeated Kaitlyn Lawes of Fort Rouge 9-5 in a battle of undefeated teams in front of a packed East St. Paul Arena Saturday and earned a spot in Sunday afternoons final at the 2023 Provincial Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
“We were pretty good,” said Jones after her team reeled off their eighth straight win. “I think we can be better though which is good. We kind of missed a couple of key shots that we would like back but all-in-all I was pretty happy with our performance.”
The key shot that Jones did not miss and executed perfectly came in the ninth end.
With the score tied 5-5 Team Jones had shot stone just inches closer to the button than Lawes’ rock. The Altona/St. Vital skip played a very gentle tap on their third shot rock and moved it inches closer to the button than Lawes' stone for a huge deuce and a 7-5 lead coming home.
“Massive,” said Jones. “That’s probably the big turning point in the game. To go up two is so much different than just being up one and not an easy shot. The girls swept it from my hand and made if perfectly for me.”
Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Jill Officer, Kristin MacCuish and Selena Njegovan finished the Championship Round in second place with a 7-1 record and will play in the semifinal at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday against Abby Ackland of East St. Paul.
Ackland defeated Beth Peterson of Assiniboine Memorial twice on Saturday, 9-5 in their final round robin game and 9-3 in the tiebreaker.
“It was a great way to get some time on that championship sheet,” Lawes said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t our best game, but we kept it close and had a shot to get to an extra end. Hopefully we can be just a little bit sharper tomorrow and hopefully things will go our way.”
Jones said it didn’t feel weird playing against former teammates Lawes, Officer and Peterman.
“I feel like when you’re on the ice, you’re in game mode so you don’t even think about who you’re playing. You’re just kind of looking at the rocks and trying to figure out what you’re going to do so it’s been totally okay.”
As for playing with her new team that just so happened to win the 2022 Provincial Scotties in Carberry, Jones couldn’t be happier.
“The team chemistry has been way easier than I ever imagined it could be. We have a slight age difference - just a little bit - so I wasn’t sure if that would have any impact in how we would go but I felt so comfortable. They are so easy to be around, they’re mature beyond their years and we’re having a lot of fun. I feel like we’re growing as a team every week so it’s fun to be a part of it and it’s really energizing and exciting for me.”
“Everybody has bought into it, so we are definitely a five-person team,” added Jones. “There is not an alternate, there is not a fifth player, there is five equal members. Some people have to take weekends off when you’re sick or if I’ve had a commitment with my kids, so it’s been great that way. I think it’s going to be eventually where curling goes just because the schedule is very long and very demanding that it just allows you to stay fresh. If you have injuries, you can definitely manage them a lot better.”
Lauren Lenentine and Emily Zacharias have flip-flopped games at the lead position this week at East St. Paul.
“Even when we’re not on the ice, we feel equally out there and that’s the biggest part of it,” noted Jones. “Whoever sits tomorrow, I know they are going to feel as equally a part of the game as if they were playing and it’s hard to find personalities that would do that. It’s worked out very well for us.”
It was 13 months ago that Zacharias, Burgess, Zacharias and Lenentine won their first Provincial Scotties title.
Sunday at 2 p.m. on sheet B at the East St. Paul Arena, the 2020 World Junior champions will play for a second Scotties championship along with a two-time World Women’s champion and Olympic gold medalist.
“We’re so excited,” said Mackenzie Zacharias who is playing second this season after skipping for all of her competitive career. “This is exactly where we wanted to be. The first time around it was a little bit unexpected to go straight to the final, but we were sure happy with it. This time too, this is our goal and to be able go straight through to the final and get that chance to represent Manitoba again, we’re thrilled.”
It's worth noting that the Zacharias sisters have played in six Provincial finals including three U18 championships, two Junior championships and of course last year's Provincial Scotties championship.
They have yet to lose.