How does a team recover from the most agonizing defeat of its curling saga?

How does a team recover from the most agonizing defeat of its curling saga?

Tracy Fleury's crew took some time to ponder that question before plotting a way forward, particularly with so much still on the line in the 2021-22 competitive season.

Just 16 days ago, the East St. Paul team's hopes to represent Canada at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing turned to dust with a 6-5 defeat to Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg in the women’s final of the Olympic Trials in Saskatoon.

Michael Burns / Curling Canada</p><p>Tracy Fleury's team out of East St. Paul suffered a 6-5 defeat to Jennifer Jones' rink in the women’s final of the Olympic Trials in Saskatoon.

Michael Burns / Curling Canada

Tracy Fleury's team out of East St. Paul suffered a 6-5 defeat to Jennifer Jones' rink in the women’s final of the Olympic Trials in Saskatoon.

Make no mistake, the world's No.1-ranked squad is still grieving the loss but pledged to spring back in time for the provincial Scotties championship, set to begin Wednesday in Carberry.

"Definitely, it's been really hard," said Selena Njegovan, who tosses third stones for the Fleury foursome. Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish are Manitobans through and through, while the skip hails from Sudbury, Ont. "But we just have to move forward and focus on the provincials this week."

Fleury went on an incredible run at the Trials, winning eight consecutive round-robin contests to earn a pass to the final, before the crushing, extra-end loss to the 2014 Olympic champion.

Liam Richards / The Canadian Press</p><p>Team Fleury second Liz Fyfe, left, and third Selena Njegovan sweep against Team Jones during Draw 17 of the 2021 Canadian Olympic curling trials in Saskatoon in November.</p>

Liam Richards / The Canadian Press

Team Fleury second Liz Fyfe, left, and third Selena Njegovan sweep against Team Jones during Draw 17 of the 2021 Canadian Olympic curling trials in Saskatoon in November.

But the team was on a hot streak even before Saskatoon, winning World Curling Tour events in Oakville, Ont., and Sherwood Park, Alta., in September, followed by a triumph at the Grand Slam of Curling tour's prestigious Masters event during a return to Oakville in late October.

"We can't really throw away the good season we've had, right?" Njegovan said. "This has been an unbelievable season so far and we don't want to let the Trials derail that. We are refocusing and hoping to have a good showing at the provincials and, hopefully, get back to the Scotties."

Manitoba Women's Curling Championship

Wednesday, Dec. 15 to Sunday, Dec. 19

Carberry Plains Community Centre

12-Team Championship

No.1 seed - Tracy Fleury, Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe, Kristin MacCuish (East St Paul)

Wednesday, Dec. 15 to Sunday, Dec. 19

Carberry Plains Community Centre

12-Team Championship

No.1 seed - Tracy Fleury, Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe, Kristin MacCuish (East St Paul)

No.2 seed - Mackenzie Zacharias, Karlee Burgess, Emily Zacharias, Lauren Lenentine (Altona)

No.3 seed - Beth Peterson, Jenna Loder, Katherine Doerksen, Melissa Gordon (Assiniboine Memorial)

No.4-seed - Darcy Robertson, Laura Burtnyk, Gaetanne Gauthier, Krysten Karwacki (Assiniboine Memorial)

No.5 seed - Kaitlyn Jones, Robyn Njegovan, Abby Ackland, Sara Oliver (Assiniboine Memorial)

Kristy Watling, Hailey Ryan, Emilie Rarnson, Sarah Pyke (Assiniboine Memorial)

Meghan Waltker, Lane Prokopowich, Katie McKenzie Mackenzie Elias (East St. Paul)

Terry Irsel, Wanda Rainka, Tracy Igonia, Brenda Walker (Neepawa)

Alyssa Calvert, Stacey Fordyce, Pam Robins, Roz Taylor (Carberry)

Kristy McDonald, Lisa Blixhavn, Lindsay Warkentin, Raunora Westcott (Granite)

Jennifer Clark-Rouire, Lisa McLeod, Kelsey MacDonell, Jolene Callum (Miami)

Shae Bevan, Kyla Grabowski, Paige Beaudry, Jessica Hancox (St Vital)

The provincial championship's top seed is the undisputed favourite to win its second Manitoba title since the team was formed in time for the 2018-19 season. Fleury meets Shae Bevan of St. Vital on Wednesday's opening draw at 8:30 a.m.

In all, 12 teams will compete in the western Manitoba community during the five-day event. The field is split, with each team playing a round-robin within its pool. The top-three teams from each pool then cross over to battle the three teams from the other pool.

Only the three teams with the best cumulative records qualify for the Sunday playoffs. The top team moves directly to the championship final, while the second- and third-place squads collide in the semifinal.

Missing from the action are the Jones team, deep into its preparations for the Olympics, and Kerri Einarson's Gimli squad, the two-time reigning Canadian champion. Einarson will defend the national title as Team Canada in late January in Thunder Bay.

Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press Files</p><p>Mackenzie Zacharias makes a shot at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary in February.</p>

Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press Files

Mackenzie Zacharias makes a shot at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary in February.

But former world junior champion Mackenzie Zacharias of Altona, who participated in the 2021 national Scotties in the Calgary bubble, will battle in Carberry, as will another team from the bubble, Beth Peterson of Assiniboine Memorial (AM). Three-time Manitoba champion Darcy Robertson (AM) has also qualified, while Kaitlyn Jones, a world junior champion out of the Maritimes, has moved west and will guide her (AM) crew at the provincials.

Njegovan said the path to the national Scotties won't be obstacle free.

Draw times

Click to Expand

Preliminary

Wednesday - 8:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 4 p.m., 8 p.m.

Thursday - 8:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 4 p.m., 7:45 p.m.

Friday - 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 6:30 p.m.

Saturday - 10 a.m., 4 p.m., (8 p.m. if tie-breaker required)

* One game per draw Wednesday through Saturday (except Wednesday, 8 p.m.) will be live-streamed on Youtube

Championship

Sunday, Dec. 19

Semifinal, 10 a.m. (Sportsnet)

Final, 4 p.m. (Sportsnet)

"Manitoba is never easy. You can never count any of the teams out," she said. "We have to go in there and play our game and, hopefully, it's good enough for us to come out on top."

Fleury is already guaranteed a spot in the Scotties wild-card game, owing to its lofty status on the Canadian Team Ranking System. But Njegovan, who has been on the winning (2018) and losing (2020) sides of that play-in game, wants no part of it.

"I've played in it twice and it's no fun at all," she said. "We want our spot out of provincials."

Team Zacharias was part of an expanded '21 Scotties field by way of its CTRS ranking, however, the only route back is to prevail in Carberry. The skip, a kinesiology student at the University of Manitoba, said a wealth of experience was banked in the bubble.

"Being at the Scotties earlier year definitely gave us a taste, and I think we all want to get back there so badly. We didn't exactly have the run that we wanted," said Zacharias. The 2020 Canadian and world junior champion finished just 3-5 in Calgary.

The foursome meets Terry Ursel of Neepawa on the 12:15 p.m. draw Wednesday.

"There's a lot of unfinished business there, so if we can have a good showing in Carberry and find ourselves in the playoffs and, potentially, the final, we'd definitely be giving it our all to get back," added Zacharias, who is joined by third Karlee Burgess, second Emily Zacharias and lead Lauren Lenentine.

"The Scotties taught us so much and I think there's so much more for us to learn, and I think we could do some damage there as well if we got back."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).