Curling champs take London test run

STEVE GREEN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

Apart from that emergency appendectomy, it was a fairly routine summer for Canada's reigning women's curling champions.

Now fully recovered, Jennifer Jones is looking toward at least two major events this season: the Olympic trials in December in Halifax and the Scott Tournament of Hearts, Feb. 25 to March 5 at the John Labatt Centre.

Jones and her rink of Cathy Overton-Clapham, Jill Officer and Georgina Wheatcroft are getting their first look at the London area while in the the ninth annual Southwestern Ontario Women's Charity Cashspiel, which begins today.

And Jones is ready to go, which couldn't be said in August. The Winnipeg skip was supposed to be at a high-performance camp in Guelph.

"The Friday before I was supposed to fly out, I wasn't feeling well at all and my mom convinced me to go to the hospital just to get something to make the flight more comfortable. Turned out I needed an appendectomy. I was sore for about four weeks."

If that was her low for this year, the high had to be her spectacular winning last shot in the 2005 Hearts final against Jenn Hanna of Ottawa.

"We went home and everyone on the street was stopping us, people were following us into grocery stores and we were signing autographs at the Gap," she recalled.

Wheatcroft, a 2000 Canadian and world champion and 2002 Olympic bronze medallist as second for B.C.'s Kelley Law, has replaced Cathy Gauthier at lead after Gauthier left the rink for family commitments.

"It feels like she's been a part of the team for years. It's a natural fit," Jones said.

As defending champion, Jones is guaranteed a berth in the 2006 Hearts, but she isn't concerned about lack of match fitness beforehand.

"We're fortunate in that the Olympic trials are this year and they're almost like a provincial finals, so we'll get to play in some high-competition situations."

If she wins the trials, there's a potential travel headache -- the Olympic final in Turin, Italy, is just two days before the Hearts begins.

"It's a problem we hope to have," Jones said, smiling.

Jones is far from the only high-profile name competing here this weekend. Also entered are Hanna, 2003 Ontario Hearts champ and 2004 Canadian and world senior titlist Anne Dunn of Galt, former U.S. women's champions Patti Lank and Deb McCormick, defending cashspiel champion Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater and 1999 world junior women's champion Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland.

Leading the local players are Jo-Ann Rizzo of Brant, an Olympic trials qualifier with Strathroy residents Kim Tuck and Sara Gatchell as her front end; Becky Philpott of Listowel; Jane Galloway and Amie Coward of Ilderton; and Ruth Alexander of Highland. Londoner Kerry Lackie is third for Hamilton Glendale's Stacey Brandwood.

The cashspiel begins play today at 9 a.m. at Ilderton, Highland and St. Thomas. There are three draws today, tomorrow and Sunday, with the quarter-finals Sunday at Ilderton at 7 p.m. The semifinals and finals go Monday at Ilderton at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

In eight years, the event has raised $123,000 for breast cancer care and research

Hearts update

Hearts organizing committee chairperson Peter Inch said yesterday about a third of the goal of 158,000 total tickets have been sold through full-event packages.

"That's a little slow, in my opinion, but they should be taking off soon," he said.

Mini-packages go on sale Nov. 7. Inch said a decision on single-draw sales will be made after Christmas.

About 50 more volunteers are needed, Inch said.


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