Defending home ice

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

SOURIS -- Lois Fowler has curled in big events in front of family and friends before.

This year's Scott Tournament of Hearts provincial women's curling championship, however, could not be any closer to home.

Fowler, along with her Brandon-based rink of Gerri Cooke, Maureen Bonar and Lana Hunter, has descended upon Murray Arena in the Souris-Glenwood Memorial Complex, where, beginning today, she will defend her provincial title.

Fowler, whose maiden name is Moffatt, grew up 10 miles east of Souris in the hamlet of Carroll, and her brother still lives on the family farm. That means the other 15 teams attempting to knock Fowler and Co. off their pedestal this week probably won't have the crowd on their side.

"It's beautiful," Fowler said yesterday after her squad's practice session. "It's just going to feel like we're at home. ... You just know everybody, so it's going to be kind of like '93 when we curled in Canadians in Brandon. You'll feel the crowds input in your play, and they'll be a big influence on us.

"It's a very positive spinoff, having the crowd behind you. Hopefully we can go out and play well."

Fowler, 50, is the top seed this week, and she opens the event today at 12:15 against The Pas' Lois Mosiondz.

Fort Rouge's Barb Spencer, who won in 2003, is the No. 2 seed, St. Vital's Jennifer Jones, the 2002 champ, is No. 3, and Fort Rouge's Joelle Duguid, who lost to Fowler in last year's provincial final, is No. 4.

"It's going to be very tough this week, because it's probably the strongest field we've seen at a Scott in a long time," Fowler said. "Everyone's always going to be gunning for you because you are the defending champ, but we can't look at it that way."

Fowler went into last year's national Scott as an underdog, but she made it all the way to the semifinal. One more win would've landed her a spot in the Olympic Trials later this year.

"We all gained a lot of confidence and we just gotta feed on that positive note," she said. "Hopefully that'll gain us some good momentum as we head into this."

One of the teams trying to knock off Fowler this week includes her own daughter, Rhonda Ritchie, who plays second for Brandon's Liza Park. Fowler and Park are in the same pool, and they will meet Friday morning in a round-robin game that could have huge consequences.

Mother and daughter even played together when they won a provincial title in 1993.

Fowler, however, can't worry only about her daughter in this star-studded field, which includes at least one winning rink member from 21 of the past 23 provincial championships.

"Anybody's beatable," said Jill Officer, the second for Jones. "My grandpa always says anybody's beatable on any given day on any sheet of ice anywhere in the world. Lois is beatable, Spencer's beatable, we're beatable.

"You have to go out and you have to play your game and make shots. That's the only way to win."

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PENTON'S PICKS

1. Lois Fowler, Brandon (2-1) ... at home, playing well, feeling good

2. Joelle Duguid, Fort Rouge (3-1) ... no one playing better

3. Barb Spencer, Fort Rouge (5-1) ... perennial threat

4. Jennifer Jones, St. Vital (8-1) ... have they meshed?

5. Janet Harvey, St. Vital (10-1) ... never count her out

6. Ainsley Champagne, Fort Rouge (12-1) ... could shock and awe

7. Liza Park, Brandon (15-1) ... MCT champ, cruising

8. Kristen Williamson, Brandon (20-1) ... dark mare

9. Kristy Jenion, St. Vital (25-1) ... ready to make a mark

10. Karen Young, Springfield (30-1) ... veteran-laden

The rest of the field (50-1): Chris Scalena, Starbuck, Lois Mosiondz, The Pas, Terry Ursel, Plumas, Linda Stewart, Swan River, Gwen Wooley, Morden, Jackie McCormick, Arborg.


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