CALGARY — Shannon Kleibrink will have one less frontrunner to upend in her bid to regain Alberta's curling crown.
With rival Cheryl Bernard out of the picture —— focusing on a shot at Olympic gold —— that makes the Okotoks superstar the favourite at the 2010 Alberta Scotties Tournament of Hearts at the Calgary Curling Club.
Whether she likes it or not.
"We don't ever feel like the favourites — we don't think about that stuff," said Kleibrink, heading into today's first draw to determine the provincial queen. "Yes, Cheryl's not here. But there's Cathy King, and Crystal Webster's been playing really well. And Heather Nedohin — she was second last year —— that's a good team, too."
Indeed, even without Bernard and her Olympic-bound rink, it's still a strong field at the Alberta Scotties.
But the burning question is whether this provincial championship will boast its usual sizzle with the much-ballyhooed Olympic Trials —— the 2010 Roar of the Rings — now in the rear-view.
Will Kleibrink & Co. consider chasing an Alberta crown consolation after falling shy of earning the coveted spot in next month's Olympics?
"You win some, you lose some —— we just lost the wrong one," said Kleibrink of dropping last month's Roar of the Rings finale —— 7-6 to Bernard —— in the bid to represent Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
"I don't think there's really going to be a let-down now," continued Kleibrink of gunning for the provincial title just a month after the Roar of the Rings and earlier in the season than usual because of the Olympic schedule. "It's kind of a good thing we had Christmas off. Yes, it's coming really close after the turkey and the drinking, but there's pros and cons to playing earlier this year.
"You can't say we're burnt out."
Besides, the veteran says there's still the glory in becoming a provincial champ and shooting for national glory.
Kleibrink's a three-time Alberta Scotties winner — most recently two years ago — who's still in search of her first Canadian crown.
So there's plenty left to play for this year, beginning with the 12-team, triple-knockout Alberta final.
Along with Edmonton's King and Bernard, Kleibrink earned her ticket to the provincial dance by finishing as one of the top-three Albertans in the Canadian Team Ranking System — or CTRS — standings. Bernard's spot will be taken by the last year's runner-up, Edmonton's Nedohin.
Rounding out the field are South stars Webster and Leslie Rogers, Peace District curlers Renee Sonnenberg and Jodi Busche, North representatives Valerie Sweeting, Brenda Doroshuk and Delia DeJong and Alberta Tour qualifier Tiffany Odegard.
"Whoever gets hot is going to win," said Kleibrink, whose crew of Amy Nixon, Bronwen Webster and Chelsey Bell hasn't competed together in a spiel since the Olympic Trials. "We're rejuvenated and ready. The good thing is we were working hard up to the trials, so we definitely feel we're ready.
"We feel like we're working toward something."
The provincials begin today 10 a.m. and continue through Sunday's championship game at 2 p.m., with the winner advancing to the Canadian Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Jan. 30-Feb. 7 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.