Kleibrink eyes national title

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

REGINA -- It seems strange to have an Olympic medal on your wall before ever winning a national curling championship.

Yet, Canada's Mike Harris (silver), Brad Gushue (gold) and Shannon Kleibrink (bronze) have done it. But Kleibrink is on the brink of adding that Canadian crown to her Olympic resume here this week.

Kleibrink's Alberta team nipped Ontario's Sherry Middaugh 10-8 in an extra end at the Brandt Centre yesterday to put a stranglehold on first place at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts with an impressive 8-1 record.

"Honestly, after the Olympics, I said, 'If I never go back to the Olympics and do better than a bronze medal, I could be OK with that,'" said Alberta third Amy Nixon. "But I would have regrets if I didn't try. But the one regret I would have is to not to have played it out hard at the Scotties and I feel really excited that we're in that position right now."

Kleibrink failed to even qualify for the Scotties last season.

"Last year was a bit of a burnout year, quite frankly," Nixon said.

Kleibrink has since replaced the front end that helped her win Olympic bronze with second Bronwen Saunders and lead Chelsey Bell and the results have been impressive.

"We've had an incredibly consistent season," Nixon said. "We even won a couple of events. We're one of the few, if not the only, women's team on the women's tour that qualified in every event we played in. We came here with that same attitude."

Kleibrink, who currently leads both the cash tour and the Canadian Team Ranking System points race, said this is the best foursome she has ever skipped.

"We just came out so fresh and excited this year and just feel fortunate that we have players that are all on the same page," Nixon said. "It's just such a pleasure."

And it shows on the ice as the Albertans beat Middaugh in a possible preview of the Hearts final.

"Ontario has a great team," Kleibrink said. "I mean, there are some great teams here but we always have a battle with Sherry Middaugh ... We were kind of hoping we'd be somewhere in the mix at this point."

Middaugh is also hoping it was a playoff preview with a different result next time.

"I'd like to see that as the (Page playoff) one-two game," said Middaugh, who battled back from a 6-2 deficit to force the extra end. "That shows a bit of our grit."

Middaugh then bounced back to beat New Brunswick's Sylvie Robichaud 7-5 to take sole possession of second spot at 7-2. Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault also clipped Quebec's Marie-France Larouche 9-6 to move into a third-place tie with Quebec and Newfoundland at 6-3.

Manitoba's Jennifer Jones defeated Saskatchewan's Michelle Englot 7-5 to take sixth spot at 5-4 with tie-breakers looming.

Englot, who dropped to 4-5, returned to the ice after an emotional day where she played two games, then rushed off to her father's funeral in Montmartre, about 90 km from Regina.

"I'm fine today," Englot said. "We just decided to come out and concentrate on curling and that's all we're thinking about ... The funeral went fine, everything went fine and we're here to curl."

P.E.I.'s Suzanne Gaudet surprised Team Canada's Kelly Scott 8-5 to drop her to 4-5 and a prayer.


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