Mind over matter could make Maria Bushell a provincial curling queen -- perhaps as early as next month when she takes on the top juniors in Alberta.
True to her own studies at the University of Calgary, the Milo curler has embraced psychology as a key component to her game, hoping it'll help push her to become the sport's next Cheryl Bernard or Shannon Kleibrink.
The 20 year old says she's feeling the effects of keeping the brain in tune since her and second Jody Keim began using the services of renowned sports psychologist Derek Robinson three years ago. The National Training Centre professional has worked with high-profile Olympians such as Kleibrink and speed skater Cindy Klassen.
"Personally, it's made a huge difference mentally -- it's improved my game so much," said Bushell of her work with Robinson. "I'm so much more consistent and confident. And working with a sports psychologist helps prepare me going into the women's curling.
"When you're at this level, everybody can throw the rocks technically. But I think it's the strongest mentally who wins."
Perhaps that was the case over the weekend, when Bushell edged out longtime rival Casey Scheidegger in the 4-2 'A' final of the 2008 Junior Women's Southern Playdowns at the Odgen Legion Curling Club. The win sends her to provincials at the North Hill Curling Club, Jan. 9-13.
"It's nice to get back to provincials -- last year, we lost in the semifinals," said Bushell, who curls out of the Calgary Curling Club. "We've worked so hard since starting together in March. We felt really good going into Southerns, and we've been really successful against all the junior teams."
In fact, the Bushell rink, which includes newly anointed third Jenn Liner -- who commutes 200 km from Bentley to Calgary twice a week -- and lead Heather Rogers, has lost just two games to junior women's competition this season.
The team has also participated in two World Curling Tour spiels this year.
With the heightened experience, plus recent work both on and off the ice with Kleibrink's third Amy Nixon --who has stepped in for a busy Robinson these days -- Bushell and Co. look primed for a provincial crown.
"They're definitely focused," said Bushell's coach, Carolyn Maher. "I think it'll be down to Maria and Casey at the provincials.
"They've been battling back and forth for five or six years in juniors and juveniles."
While Bushell took the 'A' qualifier at junior women's Southerns, Scheidegger of Lethbridge won the 'B' event and Teryn Hamilton, who skips a Calgary/Lethbridge team, qualified for provincials out of the 'C' side ... Qualifying for provincials through the junior men's Southerns is Brad Chyz (Chestermere), Kevin Yablonski (Calgary Winter/Springbank) and Michael Hauer (Calgary) ... The road to the Tim Horton's Brier kicked off with Districts in Claresholm, where Lloyd Hill (North Hill) and Scott Egger (Brooks) claimed the two berths into Southerns ... At women's Districts in Didsbury, Tara Richardson (Calgary), Heather Bedard (Calgary), Diane Foster (Calgary Winter), Kirsten Meadows (Huntington Hills), Tyra Shupe (Garrison) and Jackie Brett (Garrison) all qualified for provincials ... At the senior men's districts in Carstairs, Rick Rathier (Calgary) and Ken Scott (Inglewood) advanced to Southerns.
Calgary's Heather Rankin fell shy of a berth in the 2008 Canada Cup when she allowed a steal in the 10th end to lose a 'C' final of the qualifer Sunday. The event unofficially secured Kleibrink's place in the Canada Cup, while Bernard has already pre-qualified.