Long road back

CON GRIWKOWSKY -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

GRANDE PRAIRIE -- It's been a long time since Cheryl Bernard stood in the winner's circle.

Always a great cashspiel skip, it's somewhat surprising that this will be only the third trip to the national championship for the Calgary businesswoman.

Bernard got down to business in yesterday's Alberta final, taking advantage of the opportunities handed her in a 7-4 win over Edmonton's Cathy King.

Bernard, third Susan O'Connor, second Carolyn Darbyshire and lead Cori Bartel are bound to be a favourits at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts next month in Lethbridge.

It's an Alberta rep sure to be welcomed by organizers of the event, whose ticket sales should jump now that the classy team has earned the right to represent this province.

Bernard, who was born in Grande Prairie, has been waiting a long time for redemption at the national level.

As Cheryl Kullman in 1996, she made it all the way to the Scotts final, losing to Marilyn Bodogh. She also won Alberta in 1992.

"Oh, my gawd, it's been a long time," said Bernard, who lost the 2000 final here and finished third in 2002.

"I've been waiting a long time to get back. We've knocked on the door so many times.

"This is the most exciting thing we can imagine.

"We're going to enjoy this moment and plan to win the Canadians, not just show up there. Hometown crowd. I can't wait. I hope the organizers pump it up for the southern Alberta fans."

Yesterday's final was a complete turnaround from the 10-2 loss King handed Bernard in the round-robin.

"We were all worried about how it would be," said Bernard, a 9-4 winner over Crystal Webster in the early-morning semi.

"In 2000 we went through the round-robin undefeated and waited around. I said to my husband, (Terry Meek) 'I didn't want to do that (again).' I wanted to come through the back door and do it quietly and we did that. You keep playing and get momentum."

As excited as Bernard was, it was an emotional moment that brought tears to Darbyshire's eye.

She had just got off the phone to her mom Merline in Comox on Vancouver Island. Darbyshire has been unable to get back to the nationals since 1985, when she was part of the Manitoba team skipped by her mom.

"She was crying and said congratulations," said Darbyshire, who lost a provincial final in 2001 and the semi two years ago.

"I knew she was crying and that started me crying. I know what it's like to lose, so it's great to win."

This will be the first Scotties appearance for both O'Connor and Bartel.

This is only O'Connor's second win in eight previous Alberta finals, her only previous win at the 2000 mixed ... in Lethbridge.

"Lethbridge has good vibes for me," said O'Connor.

"The mixed was special because it was my first, but you always dream as a little girl of going to the Scott. It's very special.

"Having the crowd behind you and being Team Alberta in your own province will be great."

No question now. They are Alberta's best.


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