Skip Heather Strong (right) and her teammates celebrate their win over the Laura Philips rink in the final of the provincial women’s curling championship late last month at the Re/Max Centre in St. John’s. The Strong rink is representing Newfoundland and Labrador at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national women’s curling championship, beginning Saturday in Red Deer, Alta. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
Heather Strong is about to play in her 10th Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but she says it never gets old and she’s always thinking of making a final.
“That’s why I’m still playing,” says Strong.
The Scotties begin Saturday in Red Deer, Alta.
For Strong, it’s all about competing at the highest level. That’s what inspires her and it’s why she’s still involved in the game.
And needless to say, she wants to make an impact.
Strong’s last appearance at the Scotties was in 2009, when she finished with a 5-6 record.
Only sister Laura is back from that lineup of two years ago, which included Cathy Cunningham, and Peg Goss.
This year’s Bally Haly foursome includes second Jen Cunningham and lead Stephanie Korab, who both will be attending their first Scotties.
Strong recalls her first appearance in the national women’s championship and remembers feeling the pre-competition jitters. She’s talked to the new girls about how to handle the nerves.
“After you throw your first rock, it becomes just a game of curling.”
“They’ve asked a bunch of question, and Laura and myself have taken turns to answer them.”
The newbies are not without experience. Cunningham won the provincial junior crown three years ago and Korab has curled out of Ontario for several years.
The rink — as currently constituted — has been together two years and Strong says they’ve curled better this year than last. She added that the chemistry has improved and so has the communication which is so important at the national level.
“Curling-wise, we’ve improved our throwing, sweeping and overall execution.”
Strong and her teammates, who sports a 10-3 record in the Bally Haly SuperLeague, has competed in a couple of bonspiels off the island this season and has posted wins over four-time Canadian champion Jennifer Jones and Olympic silver-medallist Cheryl Bernard, results which have helped the team’s confidence.
Jones is skipping Manitoba’s entry at this year’s Scotties.
It was Jones who beat Strong in a tie-breaker in the 2008 Scotties after Strong has posted a 7-4 round-robin record. That equalled her previous best performance, which was at the 2006 Canadian championship.
She said the team has “consistently” improved throughout the season “which is what you want to do. We hope to continue that into next week.
“We know we are capable of playing at this (national) calibre, so that’s why it’s so exciting to go and see how we make out.”
Jamie Korab, the lead for Brad Gushue’s team at the 2006 Winter Olympics and Stephanie’s husband, is the Strong rink’s coach ,while Noelle Thomas-Kennell is the team’s fifth.
Strong defeated Laura Phillips 9-3 in the provincial final last month.
Stacie Devereaux represented the province last year and finished 1-10, while Shelley Nichols posted a 4-7 mark in 2010.