Jones headlines Hearts field

STEVE GREEN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

It's women's curling version of 20-20 and it means the field for the Scott Tournament of Hearts is looking better all the time.

The Hearts returns to London after 20 years and Colleen Jones will be playing in it for the 20th time.

The five-time Canadian champion and two-time world titlist headlines an impressive list of provincial qualifiers who were determined over the weekend, leaving only two of the 12 entries yet to be decided.

Jones won the Nova Scotia title with a 9-8 extra-end win over defending champion Kay Zinck in the final at Antigonish. She and her veteran rink of Kim Kelly, Mary-Anne Arsenault and Nancy Delahunt have a combined 49 previous Hearts appearances, winning it all in 1999 and from 2001-04.

Elsewhere:

- Kelly Scott, who lost the Olympic trials final to Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink last month in Halifax, retained her B.C. championship and will be making her second Hearts appearance.

- Cathy King, who as Cathy Borst won the 1998 Hearts, is back for her seventh Hearts after winning the Alberta title.

- Janet Harvey earned a trip to her third Hearts after taking the Manitoba final.

- Heather Strong is the Newfoundland and Labrador champion for the sixth time.

- Kerry Koe of Yellowknife repeated as the Territories champion.

- Andrea Kelly of Saint John, last year's Canadian junior women's champion, won her first New Brunswick women's title and will be making her Hearts debut.

Three rinks had already been determined before the weekend -- Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones as Team Canada, Suzanne Gaudet of P.E.I. and Eve Belisle of Quebec.

Gaudet, who won the 2003 Southwestern Ontario Women's Charity Cashspiel in the fall after going 10-1 and eventually finishing third at the Hearts the previous spring, is appearing in her third Hearts.

Belisle, who played in the SOWCC last October, is in her first Hearts.

In addition to the Ontario championship being played in Fort Frances, the Saskatchewan final opens today with defending champion Stefanie Lawton among the entries.

Merklinger calls it a career

Anne Merklinger, a four-time Ontario champion and two-time national runner-up, will retire from top-level competition after the World Curling Tour championships in Calgary in April.

"I took a step back and realized that I'd been doing this for 30 years and that it would be tough and it would be emotional," said Merklinger, 47.

"I've played the game for a long time and played it hard. I just felt it was time."

Her brother Dave will be the head icemaker for the Hearts.


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