Strathroy curlers enjoying big-events run

Steve Green -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:42 AM ET

Kim Tuck and Sara Gatchell are on a roll right now -- and the ride's only just beginning. The two Strathroy residents play second and lead, respectively, for former Londoner Jo-Ann Rizzo of the Brant Curling Club. With Cheryl McPherson at third, they qualified for the Ontario Scott Tournament of Hearts Jan. 24-30 at Ottawa Rideau by winning the B final of regionals last weekend in Norwich.

By doing so, they avoided the Challenge Round being played at Thornhill Bayview, where the field includes defending Ontario champion Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater as well as former champs Anne Merklinger of Rideau, Anne Dunn of Galt and Alison Goring of Bayview.

An even bigger win came in December in Ottawa when they beat Heather Smith-Dacey of Halifax 8-7 in the Canada Cup East semifinals to qualify for the Olympic trials in Halifax in December.

They went on to beat Middaugh, who already had an Olympic trials berth, 9-5 in the Canada Cup East final. The eight quarter-finalists also advanced to the $180,000 Strauss Canada Cup March 15-20 in Kamloops, B.C.

"Yes and no," Tuck said yesterday when asked if the trials berth has hit her yet. "I'm still really trying to focus on playing in the Hearts and getting to St. John's (for the Canadian Hearts in February). It's something I've wanted to do since I was a kid and it's hard to think past that.

"But I know it's there in the back of my mind and every once in a while it comes to the fore and I smile."

The rink was formed back in the spring with Jane Flinn-Burton joining Rizzo, McPherson and Tuck. But Flinn-Burton is having a baby this month and Rizzo wasted no time in turning to Gatchell, who along with Tuck played in the 2001 and 2001 Ontario Hearts with Ilderton skip Melanie Palmer.

"I was actually trying to take a year off from competitive curling, but they sucked me back in," Gatchell said. "But it was very stressful for me at first. I had my ups and downs coming in, just with the pressure of trying to fill in.

"They'd won the first 'spiel of the year without me and there's a natural pressure to play well because you don't want to disappoint anyone."

The turning point at the Canada Cup East, Tuck said, came against Cathy Cunningham of St. John's. Up one coming home with last rock, Rizzo was nonetheless forced to make a cold draw to the lid against three to win.

"There was no stopping Jo-Ann's confidence after she made that shot," Gatchell said, adding she knew the team was capable of getting to the Ontario Hearts and doing well. "I did just because of Jo-Ann's experience at this level and her play at the Ontarios. She's been knocking on the door every year (it's Rizzo's 10th ) and I know one year she's going to break through."

Tuck is also confident.

"The beauty of curling is it doesn't matter what you've done or where you've been, all that matters is what you're doing on the ice at that moment," she said. "A lot of it has to do with how well you deal with winning and especially losing and we've got a great team that way."

Halifax holds special memories for Tuck and Gatchell. With their respective husbands, Wayne Tuck and Jake Higgs, they made it to the final of the 2002 Canadian mixed before falling to Mark Dacey of Nova Scotia. And Gatchell's parents, Bill and Greda, live in Truro, N.S., so a built-in fan base is in place.

Ironically, Wayne Tuck lost the Canada Cup East men's final 8-7 to Brad Gushue, with the Newfoundland skip getting a trials spot.

Fourteen of the 20 trials spots have been secured. The others will be the winners of this year's Brier and Hearts and the Canada Cup winners (or the highest-finishing rinks that haven't already qualified) and the highest remaining teams from the Canadian Curling Association's team ranking system.

Ziola back at provincials

Ilderton skip Kirk Ziola qualified for his eighth Ontario men's championship by sweeping through the A side of regionals at Windsor Beach Grove. Ziola beat Peter Corner of Glanford in the A final, but Corner rebounded to beat Todd Brandwood of Hamilton Glendale in the B final to join Ziola in the Kia Cup finals Feb. 7-13 at the Whitby Curling Club.

The win over Corner was a small measure of revenge for Ziola after Corner, the 2000 provincial champion, beat him in a tiebreaker at last year's Ontario championship.

Also heading to Whitby out of the other regionals are Wayne Middaugh of St. George's, Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Nick Rizzo of Omemee, Brian Lewis of Huntley, Josh Adams of West Ottawa Granite and Andrew Fairfull of Guelph.

ROAD SHOW

Upcoming stops for Strathroy curlers Kim Tuck and Sara Gatchell, members of ex-Londoner Jo-Ann Rizzo's Brant CC team:

- Jan. 24-30: Ontario Scott Tournament of Hearts, Ottawa

- Feb. 19-27: Canadian STOH, St. John's, Nfld. (if they win Ontario title)

- March 15-20: $180,000 Strauss Canada Cup, Kamloops, B.C.

- Dec. 3-11: Canadian Olympic trials, Halifax


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