HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Ottawa Curling Club’s Rachel Homan is packing her bags for the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in a Calgary-bubble environment. Clothes. Check. Curling equipment. Check. Board games and Netflix recommendations. Check.
What was that? Board games and Netflix suggestions? Well, of course. While the main goal is to win a fourth career Canadian women’s curling championship, Team Homan must be prepared to spend its spare time wisely and safely in the bubble.
The COVID-19 pandemic has scrapped almost all the Canadian competitive curling season, but Curling Canada has found a way to stage four major championships over the next 52 days inside Calgary’s Markin MacPhail Centre.
The Scotties will run Feb. 19-28 and will be followed by the Tim Hortons Brier (national men’s championship), March 5-14; Home Hardware Canadian mixed doubles, March 18-25; and the world men’s championship, April 2-11.
If Team Homan wins its first national women’s title since 2017, it won’t attend the world championship, which has been cancelled in Schaffhausen, Switzerland (March 20-28) because of COVID-19. Homan also is seven months pregnant and due in early April.
Playing in a bubble environment – multiple safety and health precautions, no spectators, no gatherings – isn’t the only change for the 2021 Scotties. The championship also has a new format.
For the first time, the championship has 18 teams divided into two nine-rink pools. Team Homan was selected as the CurlOn representative (defending champion) for the Scotties because provincial lockdowns prevented a 2021 Ontario championship.
No. 4 seed Team Homan will play Kerri Einarson, Team Canada; Laura Walker, Alberta; Mackenzie Zacharias, Wild Card 2; Beth Peterson, WC 3; Kerry Galusha, Northwest Territories; Jill Brothers, Nova Scotia; Krysta Burns, Northern Ontario; and Laura Eby, Yukon.
The top four teams in each pool will carry forward their records into the championship pool for four more games against teams in the opposing pool. The Page Playoff format will not be used in the playoffs.
Only the top three teams will advance to the playoffs. The first-place team following the championship round will automatically move into the final, while the second- and third-place rinks will play a sudden-death semifinal.
The Page Playoff format was eliminated for this year because it would take two extra draws and there wasn’t enough time to accommodate it with an already expanded schedule.
Team Homan enters its eighth Scotties national championship having played only one match in 2020-21, though they’ve tried to stay sharp through practice sessions, when club ice was available. The Homan rink also has a new look for 2021.
Lisa Weagle, the Team Homan lead for the past decade, was released after the 2019-20 season. Weagle has since joined the Jennifer Jones rink, which will represent Manitoba at the Scotties. Ottawa native Dawn McEwen is also part of Team Jones’ five-player roster, but she will not enter the Calgary bubble. Like Homan, McEwen is expecting a child in April.
In place of Weagle, Team Homan brought Sarah Wilkes of Edmonton into the fold to play second, alongside third Emma Miskew, lead Joanne Courtney and skip Rachel Homan.
Wilkes adds experience to Team Homan, which will have an average age of 31 on Sunday, when Miskew celebrates her 32nd birthday. The 2021 Scotties will be the fifth for Wilkes, who was the third for Alberta’s Chelsea Carey at the 2019 worlds.
Wilkes has split her competitive curling time between Ontario (2008-12, 2020 to present) and Alberta (2012-20). She has two Scotties medals – 2019 gold with Chelsea Cary and 2015 silver with Val Sweeting – and was the 2016 Canadian mixed champion with skip Mick Lizmore.
When she was in Ontario, Wilkes was on the Wilfrid Laurier University rink, which was skipped by Danielle Inglis, who will be the Team Homan alternate at the 2021 Scotties. This will be the second Scotties for Inglis, the 2018 world mixed champion.
When Team Homan begins the Scotties in eight days, it will be the start of skip Rachel Homan’s 19th season, and Miskew has been with her from the very beginning.
Besides a record 10 Grand Slam titles, the team’s Scotties record also is impressive. In the past 10 years, Team Homan has represented Ontario or played as defending-champion Team Canada seven times, winning the national title in 2013, 2014 and 2017. The last two appearances brought silver in 2019 and 2020 with a bronze in 2015. In its first appearance in 2011, Team Homan lost the bronze-medal match.
On the Scotties’ ice, Team Homan is difficult to beat, capturing 74 of its 94 preliminary pool, championship round and playoff matches for a .787 winning percentage. Team Homan is 63-14 in preliminary matches and 11-6 in playoffs.
In 2021-22, Team Homan enters its third Olympic trials, along with other early qualifiers Kerri Einarson, Tracy Fleury and Jennifer Jones. If Team Homan wins, it will go to the 2022 Games in Beijing, where she won her first world title in 2017 after 2014 world silver and 2013 bronze.
If Rachel Homan doesn’t win the four-player trials, she can enter the Canadian Olympic mixed doubles trials with Ottawa native John Morris, who was the 2018 gold medallist with Kaitlyn Lawes in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.