Shannon can't fight fate

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

REGINA -- She has won an Olympic bronze and is closing in on capturing her first Canadian women's crown.

Yet, Alberta skip Shannon Kleibrink had never wanted to be known as a curler.

"I never would have curled if my parents hadn't forced me into it," Kleibrink revealed yesterday. "And I hated it because I thought it was boring. I played basketball and I was a fastball pitcher."

But fate intervened. A junior team from her Coaldale hometown lost one of its players to injury and Kleibrink, then in Grade 9, was asked to replace her.

"I played once with that team and we won and I loved it," said Kleibrink, 39. "Then I quit basketball and baseball and everything else to curl ... I just love the game. If I didn't love it, I wouldn't be playing."

Kleibrink, who is the only woman to have skipped a squad to the national mixed title, sank Saskatchewan's Michelle Englot 10-3 at the Brandt Centre last night to clinch top spot at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. That gives Kleibrink both the hammer and rock choice in today's Page playoff one-two game against Ontario's Sherry Middaugh (7 p.m.).

"We're happy to be where we are, obviously," said Kleibrink, who now coaches softball. "We're very confident. We've qualified in everything we've played in out there this year and I've never had this kind of force (team) behind me before. They're awesome."

Kleibrink, who replaced her front end since returning from the Olympics, also has nerves of steel learned from playing fastball.

"There's definitely a relation between being a fastball pitcher and skipping in curling," she said. "I was always a fastball pitcher and if I didn't strike out every hitter, we'd lose."

That taught her to become mentally tough.

"My parents always told me that, no matter where you get to, it's just a game," said Kleibrink, who was a rock at the Olympics.

Middaugh secured second spot by defeating Newfoundland's Heather Strong 8-5 to finish with a 9-2 record.

"That was a big game for us because the one-two game is huge," Middaugh said. "There is a huge difference between the one-two and the three-four game. And getting to the one-two game shows that my team played well."

That loss dropped Strong into a tie-breaker against Manitoba's Jennifer Jones this morning (9:30 a.m.). That winner will face Quebec's Marie-France Larouche in the three-four playoff at 2 p.m. Larouche beat Yukon/NWT's Kerry Galusha to finish third at 8-3.

"We were looking to finish second ourselves," said a shattered Strong.

Jones (7-4) had eliminated Team Canada's Kelly Scott 9-4.

"Obviously, we hoped for different results but long-term goal, long-term plan, it doesn't change a thing," said Scott, who had won the last two Canadian titles. "It's humbling and it's eye-opening but you never know what the whole big picture is and what lies ahead. This is one of those lessons for us. We can learn from it just like we learned from that (2005 (Olympic) trials loss. That's what we need to get out of this week to move forward."

Englot, who lost her dad the day before the Hearts started, reflected on the week.

"Under the circumstances, my team really handled everything well," Englot said. "Without all the support we got, it would have been a lot mushier. But there was only one breakdown ... in public."


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