GIMLI -- She has taken on the best in the world this season and not even breaking in new shoes has hindered her success.
But now, St. Vital's Jennifer Jones has returned home to defend her Manitoba title at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which kicks out of the hacks at the Gimli Recreation Centre today.
Jones comes into the Hearts in second spot on the World Curling Tour's money list with about $45,000 in earnings and is second in Canadian Team Ranking System points. No other Manitoba team is evwen close so this should be a breeze for Jones, who has won three of the last five provincial playdowns she has competed in (missing 2006 as Team Canada).
"I hope we give ourselves the opportunity to (win)," Jones responded after yesterday's practice. "It would be great to play on Sunday and you never know what's going to happen come Sunday. So, our goal is try to play in that last game."
Funny thing is, by playing so much on the national cash tour, Jones has not faced local competition much this season.
"I think we played (Fort Rouge's Darcy) Robertson but I can't remember playing too many of them," said Jones, supported by third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and Dawn Askin. "So, we'll just try to do our thing like we've done all year and we'll just try to give ourselves a chance.
"We hope to come out and play well and play the way we can. If we do that, we'll be happy, no matter what."
Both Robertson, who lost to Jones in last year's final, and her sister and clubmate, Barb Spencer, are expected to give Jones her biggest challenge.
"A lot of teams here have a ton of provincial experience and obviously the further you go, the bigger games you play in and it makes the pressure that much easier to take," said Jones, 33. "We've got experience on our side and hopefully, we can use that to our advantage."
Winning another Manitoba crown would also be another step toward getting the bye into the 2009 Olympic trials.
"We're in a pretty good spot with the trials so, we don't look at that too much right now," said Jones, who just needs to win one more major or the CTRS standings again to get that bye.
"Curling in any (national) Scotties is just fantastic. You never know when it's going to be your last one so hopefully, we'll give ourselves another chance to play in it, and Regina, I'm sure, is going to do a good job."
Jones, by the way, had to break in a new pair of curling shoes after her last pair were stolen from her car.
"I've worked them (new shoes) in and they feel like, well, not as good as my old ones but they're feeling pretty good," said Jones, who advanced to the semifinal of a WCT spiel in Switzerland while breaking in those shoes.
While Jones is the obvious favourite here, both the sentimental and hometown fave will be Kerri Flett. The Selkirk native moved to nearby Camp Morton seven months ago and her third, Jasmine Bracken, hails from Petersfield, which is on the way here.
"I live here now so the crowd should be on our side," said Flett, who recently lost a semifinal at the junior provincials. "Me and my team are so excited. It's going to be a wonderful experience. I hope to do very well. Our goal is to go 4-3 or better."
Flett's front end includes Theresa Cannon and Jillian Sandison, the daughter of former Manitoba champ Jan Sandison.
Michelle Hlady of The Pas is also making her first trip to the Hearts.
Today's draws are at 8:30 a.m., 12:15, 4 and 8 p.m. Opening ceremonies are at 7:15 p.m.
1. Jennifer Jones, St. Vital (3-1) ... still hot
2. Barb Spencer, Fort Rouge (4-1) ... on fire
3. Kristy Jenion, Fort Rouge (8-1) ... quite capable
4. Maureen Bonar, Beausejour (10-1) ... the dark mare
5. Darcy Robertson, Fort Rouge (15-1) ... could challenge again
6. Kim Link, East St. Paul (20-1) ... on a roll
7. Liza Park, Brandon (25-1) ... could surprise
8. Calleen Neufeld, St. Vital (30-1) ... junior star
9. Lois Fowler, Brandon (40-1) ... don't count out
10. Chelsea Carey, Morden (50-1) ... can better this rating