Jones praises Jones

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. -- We knew expectations were high for Manitoba at the Scott Tournament of Hearts, but this is akin to getting an endorsement from the Queen. "I'd put them as favourites," four-time defending Canadian women's curling champion Colleen Jones said yesterday at Mile One Stadium. "I'd put them as the No. 1 team, they are that good."

Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones put together somewhat of a dream team this year, with third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Cathy Gauthier, and it has paid off in the form of a trip to the Scott and the respect of the odds-makers.

The Buffalo gals seem OK with the pre-tournament hype, although the skip isn't etching her own name on the trophy just yet.

"I guess it's flattering that people feel that way, but there are so many teams that could win," Jones said after participating in the Hot Shots competition yesterday. "It's a great field. It's a little inexperienced, and some people might not recognize the names, but I think every team is one of the favourites."

If ever there was a year for Manitoba to be successful, this is the one. Despite what the skip says, this is not considered a particularly strong field by many observers, and the Jones foursome can take advantage of that.

Success here would be doubly rewarding for the team, as they can clinch an Olympic trials berth by winning or even finishing as low as third (Colleen Jones and B.C.'s Kelly Scott already have berths).

"We are shooting to make the playoffs," said Jennifer Jones, who opens with a game against Newfoundland today at 11:30 a.m. "If you are telling me I had to pick (between a trials berth and the Scott title), that would be a great position to be in. Both would be amazing, but we can't really look that far."

So, what will it take for Manitoba to end a 10-year drought at the national championship?

"A few lucky breaks and we are going to have to play lights out," said Jones, who is trying to become the first Manitoba skip to win since Connie Laliberte did it with Overton-Clapham and Gauthier in 1995.

And there's one more small hurdle -- known as Team Canada. Colleen Jones is the undisputed favourite in most people's eyes and will be until someone knocks her from her lofty perch.

"I think Colleen's team is very beatable," said Overton-Clapham. "There's no doubt in my mind about that. Obviously they are a great team and they pull it all together here. Everyone will have to play well to do it, but they are beatable. I'm confident we can be there at the end."

As for Jennifer Jones, she is simply relishing the opportunity to compete in her second Scott.

"This is my passion in life," said the 30-year-old Winnipeg lawyer. "I absolutely love to play. I love the smell of the ice, I love being out there, I just love everything about the game. I don't think I'd ever give it up. Winning is something I would love to do, but it's really not the be all and end all for me. I love to play and compete and that's what drives me. Winning would be a nice bonus, but it's really not why I'm here."


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