Tough test for Jones

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

REGINA -- They've gathered in the land that Sandra Schmirler made famous with one eye on the diamond at the end of the week and the other on the Olympic carat dangling just around the corner.

Should Manitoba's Jennifer Jones capture her second Canadian crown next Sunday, she'll not only get all the perks that go with it, but finally earn the bye into the 2009 Canadian Curling Trials that her squad should have been awarded last season.

It's still beyond us why the Canada Cup and Players' Championship victor and CTRS points leader didn't get her due -- and the Olympic funding that would've gone with it. Not that Jones has complained about it.

'VERY IMPORTANT'

The ultimate goal is to become the second Canadian women's outfit to win Olympic gold, and first since the late Schmirler turned the trick almost 10 years ago.

"That would be great," Manitoba third Cathy Overton-Clapham said yesterday. "But we still have to get there and it's very important to us to get off to a good start."

This week's Scotties Tournament of Hearts is the next step on the road towards the 2010 Olympics and sure to be the toughest test of the five Jones has entered thus far.

Team's Canada's Kelly Scott, Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink, Ontario's Sherry Middaugh and Saskatchewan's Michelle Englot are all in the top 10 on the cash tour and the CTRS standings.

"There are a lot of tough teams here," said Jones, who won the 2005 Canadian final with one of the most memorable final shots in curling. "Kelly's team has played very well the last couple of years and there's Shannon Kleibrink and Sherry Middaugh, the list goes on and on."

Quebec's Marie-France Larouche, P.E.I.'s Suzanne Gaudet and even Yukon/NWT's Kerry Galusha are no slouches.

Then there's Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault skipping Colleen Jones's old squad.

But Jennifer Jones can expect a lot of questions about her rivalry with Scott this week.

"I didn't even know there was one until I read it in the paper," said Jones, who looks a lot more uncomfortable playing Scott than any other opponent. "Obviously, we have played them in some big games over the years."

Jones beat Scott in last year's Players' Championship final and lost to her in the 2006 Hearts final.

The teams split the only two games they have played this season.

Veteran observers say Jones and Scott were downright chummy as teammates during the recent Continental Cup.

"We already knew them quite well and we have a lot of respect for them," Jones said. "But you guys in the media always make stuff up."

BITER: Manitoba second Jill Officer led all shooters at yesterday's Hot Shots with 24 points. No other Manitoba player qualified for today's championship round ... The remaining members of Schmirler's Olympic gold-medal winners will throw the ceremonial first rock at this morning's opening ceremonies.

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BENDER'S PICKS

1. Kelly Scott, Team Canada (2-1) ... added motivation to three-peat

2. Shannon Kleibrink, Alberta (3-1) ... Hottest curler in country

3. Jennifer Jones, Manitoba (5-1) ... still bothered by burning brushes

4. Sherry Middaugh, Ontario (10-1) ... going home again

5. Michelle Englot, Saskatchewan (15-1) ... the dark mare/hometown fave

6. Suzanne Gaudet, P.E.I. (20-1) ... could surprise

7. Mary-Anne Arsenault, Nova Scotia (25-1) ... not without Colleen

8. Marie-France Larouche, Quebec (30-1) ... don't count her out

9. Kerry Galusha, Yukon/NWT (40-1) ... the spoiler

10. Heather Strong, Newfoundland (50-1) ... can better this rating

11. Allison MacInnes, B.C. (75-1) ... will spend week in deep freeze

12. Sylvie Robichaud, New Brunswick (100-1) ... just happy to be here


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