Olympic champion Jennifer Jones looks to maintain her golden touch as she aims for a record seventh provincial title as skip at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts presented by Monsanto, starting Wednesday in Winkler, Man.
Jones could have tried to accomplish the feat earlier except she’s missed the event four times due to holding an automatic berth to the national Scotties as Team Canada. Her Winnipeg-based rink also skipped last year’s tournament while preparing for the Olympic Winter Games.
With no defending Manitoba champion — last year’s winner Chelsea Carey moved to Alberta and dismantled her team — the Sochi gold medallists received the top seed for this year’s tournament. Team Jones continue to top the World Curling Tour’s order of merit rankings and have won the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic, Canad Inns Women’s Classic and Karuizawa International titles this season.
While Jones is the odds-on favourite to win this event, she’ll also be the skip everyone will be targeting to beat.
Jill Thurston, the 2010 Manitoba champ, earned the No. 2 seed and leads the list of teams looking to knock off Jones. Thurston hasn’t had much success against Jones lately with Jones winning all three meetings this season including the C-qualifier final at the Canadian Open in December that eliminated Thurston from the Grand Slam event.
McDonald, who won the Manitoba title last season on Carey’s team, returned to the skip role this season and reunited with lead Raunora Westcott and second Leslie Wilson-Westcott. Kate Cameron, who skipped her own team the past two seasons, came onboard at third. Although playing a lighter schedule this year, McDonald competed in both the Masters and Canadian Open Grand Slam tournaments. She enters this event after winning the Granite Ladies Cash Spiel earlier this month (including a win over Thurston in the semifinals en route to the title).
Thurston and McDonald are neck-and-neck on the WCT order of merit rankings with McDonald holding the advantage sitting one spot ahead in 13th place.
Two-time Manitoba champ Barb Spencer is seeded fourth followed by Michelle Montford. While Montford doesn’t have the experience as the other four skips ahead of her in the rankings, she has been making noise on the World Curling Tour this year winning the Sunova Spiel at East St. Paul and the MCT Championships tournaments.
Kerri Einarson is another hopeful contender after looking to be the favourite last year finishing the round robin with a 7-0 record before falling to Carey in the final.