Lori Olson-Johns is feeling the love at the St. Albert Curling Club.
The Paul Kane High School cross-fit and physical education teacher is the third for the Val Sweeting rink as the crowd favourite at the Jiffy Lube Alberta Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
“I’m so thrilled to be playing in this building in front of my community,” Olson-Johns said with a smile as big as the rings on the curling sheets. “It just warms my heart to see so many familiar faces in the stands. It feels like home so it makes me more comfortable playing out there having that support around me.”
The most decorated athlete on the Paul Kane teaching staff is overjoyed by the presence of students and colleagues cheering on the Sweeting rink or volunteering their services at the Alberta Scotties.
“There was like six of my little PK curlers holding flags (at Wednesday’s opening ceremonies). Jim Dosman and his crew were making a million signs (for the event) and one of my students is out there taking pictures,” said Olson-Johns, the curling coach at Paul Kane. “Again, it just warms my heart to see them and all the community members cheering for us and I sure hope it just continues throughout the week because the crowd really helps us.”
Olson-Johns, 40, is competing in her umpteenth provincials and the third Alberta Scotties in a row with Sweeting, second Dana Ferguson and lead Rachel Brown.
Last year the Saville Community Sports Centre team lost the final to Chelsea Carey of the Glencoe Curling Club, 8-5 at the North Hill Curling Club in Calgary, after finishing second at the 2015 Canada Scotties.
“This is the tournament we always want to win so there is a lot of hunger,” said Olson-Johns, a three-time Alberta junior champion and the third for Cathy King during consecutive trips to the Scotties in 2005 and 2006 as provincial champions.
“This is always the tournament that I look forward to. There is nothing like the pride of representing Alberta and competing on a national stage,” said second team all-star third at the 2015 Canadian Scotties.
Sweeting, who skipped teams to victory at provincials in 2010 and 2014 and was the Canadian Scotties finalist three years ago, was the first of 12 rinks to qualify for the St. Albert event as the top 2015/16 Alberta rink in the Canadian Team Ranking System.
Sweeting was 2-1 before Friday’s B semifinal against Nadine Chyz of the Glencoe Club and the winner would play Casey Scheidegger of the Lethbridge Curling Club or Geri-Lynn Ramsay of the North Hill club in the B qualifier last night. Scores were unavailable at press time.
Sweeting opened provincials with a 7-3 victory over Holly Baird of the Saville before dropping a 7-6 decision to Ramsey as the Calgary rink stole the winning point in the 10th end after the ninth was blanked.
The next game for Sweeting was 7-4 over Kalynn Virtue of the Lethbridge club in the B event.
”People are saying we’re the No. 1 seed yet every team here has earned the right to be here. There is some strong competition so there is pressure for us to perform at a provincials because of the honour and the prestige that goes with it and we want to play our best here and be on top of that podium,” said Olson-Johns, who curled on Cheryl Bernard’s rink of Calgary for three seasons before joining the Sweeting lineup in November of 2014.
Leading up to provincials, Sweeting was 37-22 in 10 events on the World Curling Tour and the last one was The Meridian Canadian Open earlier this month at North Battleford. Four wins in a row by Sweeting were followed by a 7-3 loss to Scheidegger in the semifinals. Scheidegger went on to win the final.
“The game plan is always the same no matter who we’re playing and where we’re playing so the game and the strategy plan never changes,” Olson-Johns said of the team’s approach for provincials. “It’s nice to have few weeks to actually train for the provincials because in our normal schedule we’re only home for a week or four days at some points and then we’re back out so to have consistent team practices focusing on technical and any little things that we can improve on our game has been really helpful and we feel really good coming into this week.”
Sweeting is ranked seventh on the WCT money list at $58,250 as the fifth-highest Canadian team and is one spot behind Scheidegger at $60,500.
Season highlights include winning the GSOC Tour Challenge Tier 1 stop in November at Cranbrook and reaching the final of the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic in October at Calgary.
“We’re always a really steady team and to have a win in a Grand Slam this year together was really huge for us,” Olson-Johns said. “We’ve been making playoffs consistently and ramping up at the right time. We had a little slow start there in October in the first Slam but other than that we’re exactly where we need to be and at the end of the day it’s just one game at a time and one rock at a time. You can’t look too far ahead.”
Looming large on the horizon is the Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials, Dec. 2 to 10 in Ottawa. The winner represents Canada at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“We’re really good at not looking ahead and just staying in the moment but as the season stands today we’ll definitely be one of the teams in the Trials so we’re right where we need to be,” said Olson-Johns, who competed at the 2009 Trials as the third for Crystal Webster of Calgary. “The teams that win those champions don’t change too much so it’s making sure that we’re prepared every weekend and the consistency carries through to that event. Yes, there is an enormous trophy and prestige and honour with wearing the maple leaf but it’s just like any other tournament. You have to get the job done and it’s the simple things that help you get there.”