Thurston for a return

JIM BENDER, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

KILLARNEY -- So much for taking time for the right curling chemistry to form.

The last time a new team won the Manitoba title, they went on to win the Canadian crown. But in 2005 when she won with a new crew, Jennifer Jones hadn't just returned from a two-year sabbatical like Jill Thurston did.

Still, the Deer Lodge skip returned with her passion for the game rekindled and wound up winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Thurston defeated Assiniboine Memorial's Janet Harvey 7-6 in an extra end at the Shamrock Centre yesterday to earn her third women's provincial championship.

"It feels amazing," said an emotional Thurston as she fought back tears. "And it feels even more amazing to win with those three guys. They've lost the finals a whole bunch of times and it's so gratifying to win with them."

It's unusual for a new team to win a championship in its first year together with a skip who hasn't played for two years or skipped her own squad since 1996.

"It's not supposed to happen but I think (the time off) probably made me a better curler," said Thurston, 38. "I got to watch a lot of curling and learned a lot. I got to relax and take a vacation and I think it really did me a lot of good. I got my passion for the game back."

Third Kristen Phillips helped coax Thurston back into the game.

"It's amazing, absolutely amazing," Phillips said. "When we called Jill to ask her to come and skip us, we know we could do this and now, it's all come true. Unbelievable."

Draw to button

Thurston scored the winning point when Harvey's attempted draw to the button in the extra end slid a couple of inches too far.

"The ice was quicker (yesterday)," Harvey said. "We were about a foot or six inches heavy on a couple of shots and that was the difference in the game. They played really well and hats off to them ... You want to finish it off. We played hard and they played fantastic."

Thurston stole two in the sixth to tie the game 4-4, then stole singles in the seventh and ninth ends for a 6-4 lead. Harvey cracked a deuce in the 10th to force the extra end.

"We dig deep; we battle back and we have a ton of confidence and belief in each other," said Thurston, who stole the winning point in an extra end to eliminate East St. Paul's Kim Link 10-9 in the semifinal. "We knew we were going to have to dig deep (yesterday) so that's what we did."

Thurston won the 2006 title at third for Harvey and in 2000 as third for Cathy Overton-Clapham.

Supported by Phillips, 28, second Leslie Wilson, 30 and lead Raunora Westcott, 33, Thurston will represent Manitoba at the Canadian Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Jan. 30-Feb. 7.

"She'll do great," Harvey said. "She's been around the block and back again. She'll be fine. They'll do good."

Jones will also be in Sault Ste. Marie as the defending champion.

"It's just going to be an amazing feeling," Thurston said. "I don't know anybody else going, other than Jennifer, but I'm certainly looking forward to playing."

A few of the usual suspects won't be there, as Valerie Sweeting beat Shannon Kleibrink in the Alberta final, Eve Belisle knocked off Marie-France Larouche in Quebec, Shelly Nichols took out Heather Strong in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nancy McConnery beat Mary-Anne Arsenault in Nova Scotia.

Kelly Scott is back from British Columbia and Krista McCarville will represent Ontario. Amber Holland from Saskatchewan, Andrea Kelly of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island's Kathy O'Rourke and Sharon Cormier of the Yukon/Northwest Territories also qualified.

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca


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