HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
For the second consecutive year, the Ontario rink attending the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national women’s curling championship will be decided in the boardroom and not on the ice.
And for the second time in as many years, Ottawa Curling Club’s Rachel Homan could get the virtual tap on the shoulder to make the trip to Thunder Bay, ON., for the Jan. 28 to Feb. 6 national championship.
On Monday, CurlON (Ontario Curling Association) suspended the five-day provincial curling championship, which was scheduled to begin Tuesday night at the Thornhill Curling Club, because the COVID-19 pandemic had taken a turn for the worse.
The provincial playdowns already have been cancelled for Northern Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland Labrador.
The Ontario women’s championship, which could be staged later, was put on hold because of a dramatic rise in the number of positive COVID-19 cases related to the Omicron variant. The sharp rise in forced the provincial government to declare more restrictions, including “closing indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities.”
“CurlON reviewed all opportunities to (play host to) this championship. After consideration for the safety of athletes, supporters, volunteers and staff in mind and the province’s guidelines, it was a clear decision that (playing host to) the event was impossible and could not guarantee a success for any party,” CurlON stated in a press release.
After “a careful review,” CurlON also announced it will name its Ontario representative for the national championship on Friday. That will be a challenging decision for CurlON.
After the pandemic cancelled the 2021 provincial women’s curling championship for the first time since the competition started in 1956, CurlON decided to send the Homan rink to nationals as it had won the previous two provincial titles and three of the past four championships.
The Homan rink, which is completed by third Emma Miskew, second Sarah Wilkes, and lead Joanne Courtney, also was the highest-ranked Ontario team on the Canadian Team Ranking System list and had a large point lead over the second provincial team.
Taking advantage of that national-championship appointment, Homan, who was seven months pregnant for her second child, finished first in the round-robin at 10-2, earned a bye into the final and placed second overall, losing 9-7 to the Team Canada rink of Kerri Einarson in the final. Homan won national titles in 2013, 2014 and 2017 and has been the silver medallist at the last three championships.
But the CurlON officials will have a more difficult decision this time to determine the Ontario rink for the national Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
While Homan is the top-ranked Ontario rink during the 2021-22 season, standing fifth on the CTRS list with 110.43 points, Hollie Duncan’s Royal Canadian Curling Club rink of Toronto is casting an ominous shadow. Duncan is in sixth place on the ranking chart with 107.22 points.
Lauren Mann of the Ottawa Curling Club is Ontario’s third-ranked skip with 62.777 points. The other members of her rink are Karen Trines, Cheryl Kreviazuk, Marcia Richardson and Kira Brunton.
The Duncan rink of third Megan Balsdon, second Rachelle Strybosch, lead Tess Bobbie and alternate Julie Tippin has had an impressive season to this point. Duncan, who won the 2018 Ontario championship, captured the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard and the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and also reached the final of the KW Fall Classic. Her rink reached the quarterfinals of the DeKalb Superspiel as well.
The Homan rink has yet to come close to winning a competition, which is a rarity in her 20 years as a skip. She has reached the quarterfinals of the Grand Slam of Curling Masters, the Boost Nationals, the Alberta Curling Series Saville Shoot-Out and the Sherwood Park Women’s Curling Classic.
At the Tim Hortons Olympic trials, the Homan rink experienced an unprecedented last-place finish in the nine-rink round-robin with a 2-6 record.
Her best showing of the season may have been the Ontario Scotties Open Qualifier in mid-December in Guelph, which determined the final three rinks for the provincial championship. Homan took a long and difficult route to reach the provincial draw with a third-place finish.
If Homan had won her first three matches in the A event, she would have been one of two undefeated and automatic qualifiers. Instead, she lost her first match to Susan Froud of Alliston by a 6-5 score in an extra end. Homan was ahead 2-0, 4-1 and 5-3, but Froud stole one in the 10th end as well as the extra end for the victory.
The opening loss dropped Homan into the B event and she needed to win four consecutive matches to reach the provincials. Team Homan did it in contrasting ways.
Homan scored two in the extra end to edge Mackenzie Kiemele of Niagara Falls 8-6 in her first match. A steal of one in the 10th end gave Homan a 6-5 victory over Ottawa’s Emma Wallingford.
Her final two wins were high scoring and lopsided as she defeated Heather Heggestad of Thornhill 15-6 in a match conceded after nine ends and Katelyn Wasylkiw of Whitby 8-1, which ended after seven ends. In the match against Heggestad, Homan scored five in the first and ninth ends.
Homan, who had been scheduled to play at the Dec. 28-Jan. 2 Canadian mixed doubles Olympic trials alongside fellow Ottawa native John Morris until it was cancelled because of the pandemic, was looking forward to reaching her ninth Scotties Tournament of Hearts nationals on the ice.
“We fully support the difficult decision made by @CurlON,” Team Homan posted in a message on Twitter. “The safety of all the fans, staff, volunteers and players involved are of top importance. We wish everyone well during these challenging times.”
“Bummed!” reacted Team Hollie Duncan on Twitter. “We were so looking forward to this event. But everyone’s health and safety absolutely come first.”
“Tough news from Ontario,” wrote Team Lauren Mann on Twitter. “We were looking forward to the opportunity to play at this year’s Ontario Scotties Tournament of Hearts set to begin this week.”
While the Ontario Scotties Tournament of Hearts would have seen an all-Ottawa, opening-draw match between Homan and Mann, the competition also would have included three other players from the national capital – lead Grace Holyoke on Team Jestyn Murphy, second Lynn Kreviazuk on Team Jacqueline Harrison and lead Cassandra de Groot on Team Danielle Inglis.
CurlON also has suspended/postponed four other provincial competitions in January because of the worsening pandemic – Ontario under-18 men’s and women’s championships, wheelchair provincials, two-person stick championship and the men’s open qualifier.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 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.