Curler shoots for rings of honour

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Lori Olson-Johns, all-star third for Val Sweeting's rink at the 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, curls towards the Roar of the Rings

Lori Olson-Johns can hear the Roar of the Rings calling.

A victory by Val Sweeting’s rink at the Canada Cup of Curling, starting today in Grande Prairie, would secure a berth at the Olympic Trials for the 2018 Winter Games.

“To have that weight off your shoulders knowing two years from now you’re in that bonspiel and you can just focus on that versus getting the points to get another spot would relieve a lot of pressure,” said Olson-Johns, a Paul Kane High School teacher and the third for Sweeting, the defending Canada Cup champion.

The competition features the top seven women’s teams and the top eight men’s teams in Canada. The winners also qualify for the 2016 Continental Cup in Las Vegas as members of Team North America.

“Defending our title and just winning a championship among the top teams in Canada, all those things are bonus,” said Olson-Johns, who competed at the 2009 Olympic Trials as the third for Crystal Webster of Calgary. “Any way you can get in (to the Roar of the Rings) is obviously what you want but you want to go directly in and this is the first berth.”

Sweeting’s team, with Dana Ferguson and Rachel Brown at front-end, is ranked on the World Curling Tour third in the Order of Merit and fourth on the money list at $40,700.

The defending provincial champions and Scotties Tournament of Hearts finalists from the Saville Centre recently celebrated their one-year anniversary as a rink.

“It’s unreal what we’ve accomplished,” said Olson-Johns, a member of the Cheryl Bernard rink of Calgary for three seasons before joining Sweeting’s crew last November. “I was pretty honoured I got the call and I was able to help these girls out. Things are looking great.

“We believe in each other. The hard work and the hours we spend in the gym and at the curling rink refining our skills as a team and the dedication that we put into the sport speaks volumes. You can’t just go out there and expect things to happen. You have to earn them, you have to work hard and that’s the biggest thing these girls have. I’ve never been with a team that works harder all the way up the lineup and I think that’s the difference.”

The former three-time Alberta junior champion was the third for Cathy King during consecutive trips to the Scotties in 2005 and 2006 as provincial champions.

The 2015 Scotties started off with nine straight wins by Sweeting before losing twice in the round robin and the Page 1-2 game. The Alberta reps edged Saskatchewan 7-6 in the semifinal and the final against Jennifer Jones of Manitoba was decided on the last shot in the 10th end, an open draw to the 12-foot by the 2014 Olympic gold medallist for her fifth Scotties crown. It also marked the second year in a row Sweeting lost the final.

“We didn’t have hammer in the last end and we didn’t have it to start the game, which is a huge factor in our sport at our level,” Olson-Johns said. “We’re proud that we were within a shot of wearing the Maple Leaf and it gives us more determination to get back there and be the people that are standing on top of that podium.

“Looking twenty-five months from now, the big goal is the Olympics so the more opportunities you put yourself in to play in finals, to play in that last event to give yourselves the opportunity, the better off we’re going to be.”

Olson-Johns, 39, was also named to the second all-star team at third at the Scotties. The all-star teams were decided based on the players’ shooting percentages in the round robin and Olson-Johns was graded at 82 per cent.

“I was hugely honoured to accept that second all-star award,” Olson-Johns said. “I’m a little bit older than my teammates for sure and right now the youth is really taking the sport by storm. We look across the sheets at nationals and it’s not the older generation that’s dominating it’s actually the younger generation out there so for me, nearing the end of my career, to hold my own against all the great athletes in this country is something very special.”

Sweeting’s team received a bye into provincials, Jan. 20 to 24 at the North Hill Curling Club in Calgary, as the defending champion. The 2016 winners earn a berth at the 2017 provincials at the St. Albert Curling Club, unless they go on to win the Scotties next year for an automatic entry into the 2017 nationals.

“There are no guarantees you can make it there because there are so many great curlers in Alberta but we already have our spot and we’re in that tournament so that’s definitely something satisfying for us. We’re excited to get back there,” said Olson-Johns, who is pumped to see St. Albert host the 2017 provincials.

“Our rink and city is going to get great exposure,” she said. “It’s so exciting. The countdown is on.”

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.