Team McCarville playing their best with their backs against the wall

Skip Krista McCarville, from Thunder Bay, Ont. throws a rock during Olympic curling trials action (Adrian Wyld/CP)

OTTAWA — Krista McCarville’s Grade 5 class got to toss the books aside and focus on a TV set on Thursday afternoon so they could cheer their teacher on at Canada’s Olympic curling trials.

And here’s hoping the kids stayed late after school to catch that finish.

McCarville, the 35-year-old who says she has “a supply teacher at home battling my students” while she’s in Ottawa battling for an Olympic berth, scored a huge 7-3 win on Thursday afternoon over the reigning Olympic champions, Jennifer Jones and her Winnipeg rink. The win brings McCarville to 4-2 with a double-header tomorrow on the final day of round-robin play at the Roar of the Rings, while Jones is 5-2 with one game left on the docket.

Both teams are in near must-win situations, now: Three losses may not be good enough to advance to Saturday’s semifinal, or could force a tiebreaker.

McCarville got out to a good start Thursday, stealing one in the second end to take a 2-0 lead. In the fifth, Team McCarville jumped out to a 4-1 lead after scoring a deuce when Jones got only a piece of McCarville’s shot stone.

Team Jones stole a single back in the seventh when McCarville missed while trying to knock off Jones’ rock and roll in, but the Winnipeg rink was still down two heading into the ninth. Team Jones had the hammer, and both teams had two rocks in the house with only one rock to go.

And Jones went for it: She tried for the game-changing run-back double takeout to score three. It was the type of shot you don’t expect most anyone to make, except for the five-time Scotties champ, but it didn’t happen on Thursday, as Jones’ attempt came up short, giving McCarville a steal of two. It was game-over handshakes after that.

“It’s a point in the game where you’ve gotta take a chance, and I just didn’t quite make it,” Jones said, afterward. “Just a couple execution errors here and there, but all in all, not that bad. They played great.”

They did. McCarville hit 87 per cent of her shots (compared to Jones’ 78). Team McCarville third Kendra Lilly, who curled at a sparkling 89 per cent, said the game came down to a few precise shots from her skip.

“Krista’s last shot in the last end there, we put it in the perfect spot to give [Jones] a tough shot,” said Lilly. “A couple inches here or there and she would have had that shot for three. So it was just making it really precise all day.”

McCarville has now earned four wins over Jones in her career. “It’s a big one because we don’t wanna go to three losses here, and we know that three losses might be the end of our Olympic hopes and dreams,” McCarville said. “It’s pretty big, it’s pretty up there. A couple at the Scotties were big as well, and exciting.

“But I don’t think we’ve ever had a game where we’ve won like that over her, so that’s exciting.”

It is. And it’s the confidence boost they need heading into a double-header on Friday. Team McCarville will take on the undefeated (6-0) Calgary rink of Team Carey in the morning, and then Michelle Englot at 2:00 p.m.

Jones, meanwhile, is getting set for a 7:00 p.m. showdown against Rachel Homan, the defending world champion and the local favourite. Schedule-makers had this one figured out: Jones is 5-2, while Homan is 5-1 (with a game to play on Thursday night), and the matchup could be the difference for either team between making Saturday’s semifinal, being forced into a playoff, or being out of contention altogether.

So, how does Jones think that game against Team Homan will go?

“Probably fun, I would think,” she said, with a grin. Jones knows the crowd will be on Homan’s side, but that doesn’t bother her. “Whether they’re cheering for you or cheering for the other people, you kinda pretend they’re cheering for you,” she said.

While Jones and Homan are the favourites here, Team McCarville is a bit of a dark horse. They had to win pre-Trials to qualify for this week, because they don’t play nearly as much as most of the other teams, because McCarville is busy teaching.

Lilly says that dark horse label is a good thing.

“We’re underdogs, in a way,” she said. “We come in with not much pressure, and we like that. We like having the weight off our shoulders and going out and playing our best.”

This is not to say Team McCarville came out of nowhere, of course. They won bronze at the last Roar of the Rings, and McCarville has competed in six Scotties championships.

“We don’t play the circuit, most of the teams out here play the circuit, we had to come through the pre-trials as well,” McCarville said. “But being in the Scotties we have that experience playing at this level and we played a couple grand slams where, again, it’s experience.”

So, call them the experienced dark horses. And the pressure may be on now to win, but that’s a good thing, if you ask Mrs. McCarville.

“We play better when our backs are against the wall,” she said. “We know we have to play our best.”

And the good news is, her Grade 5 class can tune in again on Friday, thanks to a 9:00 a.m. start.