Finding the groove

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:51 AM ET

HALIFAX -- Sometimes, you can just try too hard.

Collars get tight, handles slippery and rocks curl by their intended targets.

Especially when you are the reigning national champs and one of the odds-on favourites to win the 2005 Canadian Curling Trials.

Manitoba's Jennifer Jones got off to a rocky start on opening day here, struggling to a 1-1 record. But Jones then clipped Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink, another favourite here, 8-7 in an extra end at the Halifax Metro Centre yesterday afternoon and is now in a five-way tie for second spot.

"We're having fewer misses each game," said Manitoba third Cathy Overton-Clapham. "I think everyone was putting a lot of pressure on themselves coming to play because we worked so hard to get where we are."

She is a prime example. Overton-Clapham, the key to the squad's fortunes this week, stumbled out of the gate, shooting a scary 63%, then 71%. And Jones lost her first and eked out a win in the second. But Overton-Clapham improved to 86% against one of the better teams here yesterday (even if opposing third Amy Nixon did out-shoot her with an impressive 93%).

"Yeah, I played a lot better," she said. "I struggled a bit at the beginning, then just relaxed a bit and just started throwing the way we've been throwing all year."

To knock off a team like Kleibrink's is not only huge but Jones now has a modest two-game winning streak heading into today's play.

"It's kind of fun to be here and get into our groove and we're getting there," Overton-Clapham said. "We're improving each game now, which is important."

Jones drew to a Kleibrink rock on the back of the button for the winning point.

"Every game here's huge and every win is big, the competition is so tough," Jones said. "Let's face it, it's nice to get another win under your belt. It builds a lot of character and builds some confidence as well.

"Shannon's team's a great team and I thought it was going to be a great game, and it was. We made a lot of good shots and it was good that we had last rock in the last end."

Kleibrink has dropped two straight extra-end games now to fall to 1-2.

"We'll go back to Keith's Patch and forget about it," said Kleibrink, who out-shot Jones 87%-82%.

"It's harsh," said Nixon. "But it's a tight field here and I don't think anyone's going to go through undefeated."

In fact, only Ontario's Sherry Middaugh is undefeated at 3-0.

Jones gets a chance to prove that her foursome does indeed belong in the upper tier of the nation's elite today. She plays Middaugh this morning, then takes on Saskatchewan's Stefanie Lawton, 2-1, tonight. Lawton, who was a surprise at last year's Scott Tournament of Hearts, knocked B.C.'s Kelly Scott from the unbeaten ranks by nipping her 8-7 in an extra end.

"Every day here's a big day," said Jones, who won that Scott. "We've made it through the first couple of days. We're 2-1 and we're really satisfied with that. (Today), we want to come out, play strong and win at least one."

Losing both could be disastrous.


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