Grudge match among Hearts highlights

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. -- The three-time defending champ has a new look but still the same target on her back.

Training their sights on it are a mix of wily vets and hungry kids -- and one very motivated woman from Manitoba.

There is no shortage of intriguing storylines at the 2011 Tournament of Hearts as this event gets out of the hack Saturday.

Jennifer Jones' Team Canada rink, for instance, is trying to match the record streak of Nova Scotia's Colleen Jones by winning its fourth consecutive national women's curling title.

Olympic medallist Shannon Kleibrink of Alberta shoots for the championship that has eluded her in three previous tries.

Then there's Ontario's confident 21-year-old, Rachel Homan -- curling's Next One, some are saying -- who's fresh out of the junior ranks and brings along one of the youngest team to ever compete at this event.

Or maybe the host team, led by former world junior champ Suzanne Birt, can create some Island magic and finally capture this province's first national women's crown.

Those stories, significant as they are, are dwarfed by the one everybody seems to be talking about: Will Cathy Overton-Clapham get her revenge on Jennifer Jones?

"Oh yeah, everyone," B.C. skip Kelly Scott said Friday. "It's great. People thrive on these kinds of rivalries. It won't go away, either. They're going to battle one another out until one of them decides not to play anymore. It's just the start, I'm sure."

Yes, it seems even fellow competitors have circled Wednesday night's game on their draw sheets -- not so much for who's going to win, but what will the dynamic be like between the woman who got the pink slip last year and the fellow Winnipegger who drew it up.

After poor showings at last year's world championship and Olympic trials, Jones felt her rink was going stale, so she summoned long-time third Overton-Clapham and told her she was on her own.

Initially devastated, Overton-Clapham regrouped, put her own rink together and got here the hard way: By winning the Manitoba title and setting up the grudge match of the century.

And since Overton-Clapham arrived Wednesday, it seems that's all she has been asked about.

"Every time I get interviewed," she said. "It happened eight months ago, so I'm trying to get over it."

As for Jones, the move appears to have accomplished what she set out to do.

New third Kaitlyn Lawes, just 22, has helped the team to the top of the money list.

"We've had a really good season," Jones said. "Kind of petered off near Christmas and got back going again in January. We're just having a ton of fun and laughs. It was all about just kind of figuring out each other, and that has been happening. She's really reminding us of all the little things we love so much. She has brought a little bit of excitement to our team."

If anybody was hoping the change would cause Team Canada a hiccup or two -- Cathy-O was, after all, one of the top thirds on the planet -- it appears they're out of luck.

"I don't think it has changed," Scott, herself a two-time champ, said. "Everyone still knows that team can play. They're definitely one of the teams to beat. Having the Canada jackets is a target. No matter what province you come from, you want to see how you match up against Team Canada."

The addition of Lawes, a former Canadian junior champ, to the Jones foursome is in keeping with the theme of this Scotties, as no fewer than 10 of the dozen teams have a former national junior winner.

Homan, a student at the University of Ottawa, is the latest. But she's not your typical Scotties rookie.

Dubbed "an arrogant bunch" by her own grandfather, Homan doesn't sound overly impressed by what some are calling the best Scotties field ever.

"We've played them all before, a bunch of times," she said. "So it's nothing new. We just try (to) play the rocks. It doesn't matter who you're playing."

Any other year, a kid like this would be headline news.

For now, it'll just have to wait.


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