Shelley Nichols says her rivalry with clubmate Heather Strong goes back to a time when her broom was "taller than I was."
Nichols believes the first time she went up against Strong was in her first provincial junior curling competition in 1994 when Strong's was the team to beat.
Since then, they've played together and against one another as they developed their skills.
Strong will be looking for her fifth straight crown - and ninth overall - at the Scotties provincial ladies' curling championship, which opens noon Wednesday at the Bally Haly Curling Club in St. John's. All seven rinks entered are from St. John's - five from the Re/Max Centre and two from the host club.
Last season, Strong and her defending champion Re/Max Centre St. John's rink of third Cathy Cunningham, second Peg Goss and lead Laura Strong (Heather's sister) defeated Nichols 9-3 in the championship game after pulling out a 9-8 win over Nichols in round-robin play.
So is Nichols anticipating a re-match in this year's final?
Well, not exactly, although she obviously can't rule it out either.
Nichols says she can't look that far ahead in terms of a possible showdown with Strong because, "The field is so good this year, you just want to take it one game at a time."
Nichols, who leads a rink of Stephanie Ledrew, second Rhonda Rogers and lead Colette Lemon, agrees Strong's rink is the favourite going into the 2009 provincials.
"Absolutely," she says. "Heather knows she has a big target on her back and she has put together a great team. Teams that are that successful always have a target on their back."
"It's always fun to play against the (Strong rink) girls because I did play with them at one point in time (2005-06)," said Nichols, who feels her team is ready for all comers.
"My girls are playing very well right now. I'm really impressed with them. We've come together really well and we get along so well. Chemistry is a big part of it. We enjoy each other's company and we have a lot of fun on the ice. We'll give anyone a good game."
But there are other teams capable of winning it all, according to Nichols.
"You have to look at Stacie Devereaux's team. They are 2007 Canadian junior champions and world silver medallists. We haven't seen them because they are playing out of Bally Haly, but looking at their track record tells you they are talented."
For her part, Strong says Nichols has "a solid team, certainly, but there are a lot of good, solid teams out there" and she wouldn't be surprised if she met someone else in the final.
However, she added quickly, "We don't really look so far ahead as to think who we are going to play in the final. We're just hoping to make the final ourselves.
"We had a lot of tight games last year and it was a struggle to make it to the final. We expect it won't be an easy task again this year."
Strong said her team is pleased with the way it is playing, "solid at each position, really. We just hope it all comes together this week because timing is everything."
Strong says she enjoys playing Nichols and good teams in general, "because it forces you to bring up your own game level. Anyone who is competitive in any sport relishes the opportunity to have their own game challenged. To be the best, you have to play against the best."
She said her rink has beaten each of the other six teams in the provincials and lost to each of them at one time or another as well.
"We're not taking anything for granted," she said.
Strong pointed out her "old teammate" Kellie (Sharpe) Turpin, who competed in recent years for Northwest Territories, is now home and playing third for Michelle Jewer's foursome in the provincial competition.
"It will be nice to play against Kellie again. I'm looking forward to that."
Play continues through the week with two draws daily. Tie-breakers (if needed) and the semifinal will be played Saturday, with the final slated for 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. Sunday, the time depending on whether top team needs to be beaten twice.
The winner will represent Newfoundland and Labrador at the Canadian championship Feb. 21- March 1 in Victoria, B.C.
Teams entered in THE 2009 provincial Scotties
From the Re/Max Centre (St. John's Curling Club)
Skip: Michelle Jewer, Third: Kelli (Sharpe) Turpin; second: Jill Waite; lead: Leslie Ann Walsh
Skip: Shelly Nichols; third: Stephanie Ledrew; second: Rhonda Rogers; lead: Colette Lemon
Skip: Barb Pinsent; third: Marian Dawe; second: Diane Ryan; lead: Jeanette Hodder
Skip: Heather Strong; third: Cathy Cunningham; second: Peg Goss; lead: Laura Strong
Skip: Susan Hannan; third: Beth Coady; second: Amy McIntyre; lead: Lacey Seamore
From Bally Haly Golf and Curling Club
Skip: Cindy Miller; third: Beth Hamilton; second Andrienne Mercer; lead Noelle Thomas
Skip Stacie Devereaux; third: Stephanie Guzzwell, second: Sarah Paul; lead Julie Devereaux