‘Unbelievable’: Homan completes undefeated run to claim fourth Scotties title

Team Ontario-Homan skip Rachel Homan, left to right, vice-skip Tracy Fleury, second Emma Miskew, lead Sarah Wilkes stand with the trophy after defeating Team Manitoba-Jones in the final at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

CALGARY — Most of the fans had cleared out of WinSport Arena, and Jennifer Jones walked across Sheet A and sat down, cross-legged, on top of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts logo. Jones sat with those four red hearts, perfectly arranged in a circle, and she smiled as her husband, Brent Laing, took photos of the greatest competitor this national championship has ever seen, with a silver medal dangling around her neck.

Jones didn’t go out on top in her Scotties finale, but she came pretty darn close.

On Sunday night in front of a sold-out crowd, Rachel Homan and Team Ontario continued their incredible undefeated run here, capping it off with a 5-4 win in a game that came down to the second-last rock, edging Jones in what she has announced will be her last Scotties.

It’s a fourth title for Homan, seven years after her last. If anyone was going to spoil Jones’ fairytale, it was bound to be Homan, third Tracy Fleury, second Emma Miskew and lead Sarah Wilkes, who have lost just five times this season.

“Unbelievable,” Homan said, grinning, when it was over. “It took a team effort. We’ve been working so hard trying to get back after giving birth just in the summer, at least for Sarah and I. And I mean, you put in the work and you hope it’s enough, and today it was enough. It’s just a phenomenal feeling.”

The title is a fourth for Miskew, a second for Wilkes and a first for Fleury.

“Incredible. This team really puts in the work,” Team Ontario coach Don Bartlett said. “And Rachel, I mean, there’s no give up in her at all. Even when she had her baby [in late August], she was out there curling. She’s an incredible athlete. I’m so happy for her. She deserves this.”

When it was over, Homan threw her broom to the floor, and she, Fleury, Miskew and Wilkes jump-hugged all together. Homan picked up Fleury and spun her around. Miskew fought back tears as she hugged her long-time skip.

“It’s so nice to say that we’re champs again,” Miskew said, grinning, holding her trophy. “We battled for each other out there. I’m super proud of my teammates.”

There were plenty of feelings in the building on Sunday, this being not only the Scotties final, but Jones’ forever Scotties final, as she announced it would be her last about a week before the national championship began.

It felt quiet and nervous in the building, really until it was over. The 3,195 fans weren’t quite as boisterous as they’d been earlier in the week. The cowbells were largely put away, with so much on the line.

In the ninth, Team Jones was down 4-2, and got a chance at a deuce after Homan’s last rock took out a Jones rock, which bounced back to count as the shot rock. It was an unlucky break for Homan, but it set up for the final this one deserved. Jones drew to the button to tie things up heading into the 10th.

On Homan’s first shot in the final frame, she nudged a stone forward in the house to make it shot rock, thanks in large part to Herculean sweeping efforts from Miskew and Wilkes.

Jones needed a tough draw to give herself a chance at a steal. Fans clapped as she slid back to the hack for her last shot at the Scotties, and she stayed crouched down on the ice as it sailed just long.

“We just managed to hang on,” Bartlett said, of his Team Ontario. “I mean, Jenn makes the come-around on her last shot, she probably wins. She just missed by an inch.”

The crowd got loud when it was over, but the loudest fans got was when they gave Jones a standing ovation as she stood in the middle of the ice, clapping, crying and blowing kisses.

Her daughters, Isabella and Skyla, jumped over the boards to hug their mom. “On Top of the World” blasted from the arena’s speakers, and Jones wasn’t quite there, but she was close.

“I’m just gonna miss everybody,” Jones said, her voice breaking with emotion. “I love the game. Oh, I just love being out here. I love what it’s done for our daughters. They believe that anything is possible because of curling. …

“I just love being a part of this curling community and I’m really gonna miss it. And the standing ovation was more than I could have ever expected. The fact that all these people came in and supported our sport and kind of supported me means the world.”

It wasn’t the fairytale ending for the greatest of all time, but it was close.

“My last one got by, you don’t want to end on a miss, but honestly I couldn’t have asked for a better championship,” Jones said. “We made the final, we played a great game, and that’s all we could have ever really asked for. …

“It would have been an absolute cherry on top to be Team Canada one more time, but I’m so proud of our week. Everybody thought we were going to have all these distractions because I made the announcement, but we showed up to play and I’m really proud of that.”

Nobody has won more than Jones’ six titles here. More than her 177 games. She made the podium in an incredible 15 of 18 Scotties appearances and for the last time on Sunday. Unless, of course, she changes her mind.

“At this moment, it’s really hard to say goodbye, to be honest,” Jones said. “And I think for me it was just, I don’t want my kids to look back on life and think that their mum was never front row centre cheering them on like my mum was for me. So that’s the biggest reason.”

“But they keep asking me to change my mind, so we’ll see,” the 49-year-old added, laughing.

“She’s the icon, she’s the GOAT,” said second Emily Zacharias, who’s the youngest on Team Jones at 22. “You get the callup to play with her, and you’ve idolized her your whole life and you’ve seen what she’s done for curling, and then you figure out who she is as a person. You find out that she’s an incredible person, and she’s done a lot more than you realize for the sport. And just keep learning, the more you get to play with her.

“It’s incredible to get to say that I played with her and to get to know her as a person. So it’s something I’ll forever just be honoured to have experienced.”

“Jennifer Jones is such a competitor,” Miskew added. “This game, I mean, there was so much fight in her.”

So much fight in this Team Ontario, too. This group hasn’t lost since late January, and they’ll take that winning streak with them as they head to world championships in Nova Scotia next month, as Team Canada.

“I think it’s been a really good season for us,” said Fleury, who was talking to media while also keeping an eye on her three-year-old daughter, Nina, who was trying to play on the ice, donut in hand. “We’re happy with how we’re playing right now, so we’re excited to wear the maple leaf and see what we can do.”

“We’re going to put in every ounce of work that we can to represent Canada as best we can, in Canada,” Homan said. “We’re so excited to be able to do that.”

The skip hesitated and struggled to find the words to describe earning the win Sunday, seven years after her last title here.

“I can’t describe the feeling of just coming so close so many times, losing — I don’t know, feels like seven finals,” Homan said. “But I’m so proud of my team for fighting and sticking with it.”

Players stuck around on the ice long after it was over. Homan’s son ran laps. Her daughter put on the winner’s cowboy hat.

Jones hugged her daughters and took family photos with those Hearts logos on the ice, her final appearance at the Scotties now in the books. And what a run she had here. It’s hard to believe it’s over.

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