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Homan, Jones, Sturmay, Einarson into playoffs at Canadian curling championship

Team Ontario–Homan skip Rachel Homan, right, delivers a stone against Team British Columbia-Grandy at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — A change-up and a settling into new roles has Rachel Homan's curling team extending a stellar season into the Canadian women's curling championship.

Homan (6-0) locked in a playoff berth early at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts with a commanding 10-3 win over B.C.'s Clancy Grandy on Wednesday to secure a booking in the round of six in Calgary.

"We have to stay on our absolute A game," Homan said. "Everyone here is gunning for playoffs right now, and we can't let up at all. There's just phenomenal teams."

Alberta's Selena Sturmay and defending champion Kerri Einarson (6-1), and Manitoba's Jennifer Jones (5-1), were also playoff bound. The race for the third and final berth in each pool extended into Thursday.

Sturmay (6-1) vaulted into playoffs via a come-from-behind 10-9 win in an extra end over Northern Ontario in the morning draw before dropping an 8-7 decision to Newfoundland and Labrador at night.

"We came out flat," Sturmay said. "Newfoundland came out playing really well. They played very, very aggressive. They're kind of out of contention now, so they have nothing to lose. (Playoffs) was one of our goals coming in so we've achieved that."

Einarson scored a deuce in the 10th end to edge Manitoba's Kaitlyn Lawes 6-5.

"They really challenged us, which is a good thing going into playoffs. To have a game like that and a pressure shot at the end, it definitely gets you ready," Einarson said.

Six-time Hearts winner Jones doubled provincial counterpart Kate Cameron 10-5 in the afternoon draw. The 49-year-old Jones has said this national women's championship will be her last.

The top three teams in each pool advance to Friday's playoff round, from which Saturday's four Page playoff teams will be determined.

Tiebreaker games have been eliminated from the tournament format. Head-to-head results followed by cumulative draw-to-the-button scores that precede each game solve ties.

Grandy (5-2) was Pool B's front-runner for the last playoff berth, although Cameron and Nova Scotia's Heather Smith (3-3) were not eliminated with two games remaining apiece.

B.C.'s Corryn Brown and Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville (4-3) stayed in Pool A's playoff hunt.

Saskatchewan's Skylar Ackerman (4-4) fell 10-4 to Brown, while McCarville was a 6-4 winner over Quebec's Laurie St-Georges tied with Lawes (3-4).

Homan is a three-time national champion (2013, 2014, 2017) and also reached the final three straight years from 2019 to 2021.

When Homan's lead Joanne Courtney retired in 2022 and career skip Fleury joined the team, Homan stepped away from skipping while still throwing fourth stones. Fleury called the shots and threw third stones while Homan's longtime vice Emma Miskew shifted to second and Sarah Wilkes to lead.

The foursome went 6-2 last year in the Hearts' preliminary round before it was upset in the playoff round by Nova Scotia's Christina Black.

Homan took the broom back this season to go 38-5 in tour events. Homan holds down the No. 1 ranking among women's teams in Canada, as well as No. 2 in the world behind Italy's Silvana Tirinzoni.

"The first year as a team is always going to be a little bit of learning," Miskew said. "It definitely helps having a second year.

"We tried something last year and Rachel, there were a few lines she wasn't seeing not being the one holding the broom for everyone's shot. She thought it might be a little better if she could see everyone's shots to know where to put the broom down for her own."

Homan led all tournament skips with 91 per cent shooting accuracy and Fleury topped all thirds at 90 per cent. Miskew and Wilkes ranked second at their positions at 86 and 88 per cent respectively.

"I feel like we're all in the position that we need to be," Homan said. "You want to be matched up really well and outplay your opposition, and I feel like everyone on our team has the ability to outplay the opposition, right up the lineup, so it's a really good feeling."

The winner of Sunday's final represents Canada at the world championship March 16-24 in Sydney, N.S., and earns a return trip to the 2025 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as defending champion.

Curling Canada has changed the men's and women's national championship playoff format for the third time in four years. The top team in each pool crosses over to face the opposite pool's No. 2 on Friday.

The winners advance to Saturday's Page playoff one-two game. The losers meet the third-place teams later Friday with those winners moving onto Saturday's Page three-four game.

The winner of the Page one-two gets an express ticket to Sunday's final. The loser drops to Sunday's semifinal to meet the winner of the Page three-four game.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2024.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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