Homan changing way women curl

GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:02 PM ET

The Tournament of Hearts is halfway to the finish line in Charlottetown, and the betting action has increased on Rachel Homan’s rookies.

No wonder. The Ontario horses galloped to a spotless 5-0 record before slipping against Saskatchewan Tuesday afternoon, but it’s the way they race that has many wondering if they are more colt than filly.

This Scotties curling script was supposed to be all about Jennifer Jones and ex-teammate Cathy Overton-Clapham, who will finally clash on Wednesday night (6:30pm, TSN) for the first time since their noisy team breakup last April.

But it’s Homan and her Canadian junior champions from Ottawa that are the talk of the curling world. The Sports Network has their on-ice cameras aimed squarely at the attractive youngsters — with an average age of just 22 — and only a collapse of epic proportions will swing those cameras elsewhere.

Headline writers are having a field day with the Ontarians, churning out gems like “Homan, can she curl” and “Dawn of the Homan Empire.”

While casual fans hop on the bandwagon, backroom operators are anything but surprised. They know that Homan is determined to make a mark on the sport, and first began planning her adult career while still competing in the junior ranks.

“Rachel has been that way since age 13 or 14,” said Canadian Curling Association national coach Paul Webster, who is based in Calgary.

“She was one of the few junior curlers that actually walked the walk and talked the talk. She chose training methods that try and match what our top men’s teams are doing.

“She’s got a mindset that most others don’t share, and I don’t know if anyone can match her in terms of determination.”

Ontario alternate Sherry Middaugh almost doubles her new teammates in age.

“They have that youth and that confidence and they have a level of game that’s a notch above what we’ve seen in the women’s game,” said Middaugh.

“They call the game similar to a men’s game. They’re willing to go to the soft shot because they know the skill set is there but man, these girls can also throw heat. They’re slamming guards into the rocks in the house, and I think that is taking a few people by surprise.”

Middaugh’s role wasn’t even discussed until the squad had settled at their hotel in PEI.

“It was a little bizarre, but I guess that’s how they roll,” laughed Middaugh. “But they’re young, and they’re so busy. Rachel is even writing exams between games.

“There’s no first event jitters. They’re so at ease, it’s amazing. I’m not surprised with their level of play, but I am surprised with how they’re handling themselves and their level of maturity.”

That maturity will be needed to get the train back on track for this weekend’s home stretch. Meanwhile, fans and rivals alike are watching the future of women’s curling unfold in real time.

“They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, and I don’t like that,” joked Middaugh, a veteran skip with multiple national appearances. “I’d better start looking for some weaknesses, but I haven’t seen any.”

“In women’s play, and I have said this for years, it’s lower body strength and the ability to play the up weight (that is critical),” said 1985 world champion Linda Moore.

Fellow TSN analyst and two-time world champion Russ Howard was even more blunt.

“(Women) are going to have to throw like this now, to stay at this level.”

George Karrys is: curlinguru.com


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