Last winter, they were one win away from being crowned champions at the B.C. Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
This winter, Patti Knezevic, Kristen Fewster, Jen Rusnell and Rhonda Camozzi are hoping to take that final step and claim the women's provincial curling title. Winning this time around would be especially sweet because the B.C. Scotties will be held on their home sheets at the Prince George Golf and Curling Club.
But, before Knezevic and her rinkmates can start thinking about a victory celebration at the 2014 Scotties, they have to qualify for the Jan. 6-12 event. There's no such thing as a free pass for a host team, so Knezevic and company will have to earn their way in.
According to Rusnell, having provincials in Prince George won't put any extra pressure on the rink as it tries to secure one of nine available berths.
"It's all the same process -- just working hard and playing in the events to get ready for the [qualifiers]," Rusnell said. "It's no different than any other year."
Last season, after they had locked up a spot in the Scotties in the very first qualifying event, Knezevic and her playing partners performed brilliantly at the B.C. tournament in Cloverdale. In round robin, they rolled to a first-place record of 7-2. After an 8-7 loss to Kelly Scott in the first vs. second game, they defeated Marla Mallett 8-7 in a semifinal. Then, with the B.C. championship and a trip to nationals up for grabs, they lost 9-6 to Scott.
This season, the Knezevic foursome started practicing in August and has already competed at bonspiels in Leduc and Surrey. At the Surrey gathering, they played in and won the championship game, 5-3 against junior-aged Kalia Van Osch.
This is the second season for Team Knezevic and the familiarity the players now have with each other has contributed to the strong start, Rusnell said.
"You spend a year forming and putting some time in trying to get to know each other," she said. "It makes it easy in Year 2 when you can step out on the ice and just work on the curling."
Knezevic, Fewster, Rusnell and Camozzi are now getting set to head to Vernon, where they will start play in the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic on Thursday afternoon. The tournament, which features an international field of 32 teams, is B.C.'s biggest cash event, with a total purse of $39,500. Some of the more notable skips who will have teams in Vernon are 2010 Winter Olympian Cheryl Bernard, 2011 national champion Amber Holland, national and world champ Kelley Law (2000) and Kelowna's Scott, herself a Canadian champion (2006-07), world champion (2007) and now a four-time defending B.C. champion.
And here's the catch: the Leduc and Surrey tournaments, as well as this weekend's event in Vernon, are on the Canadian Team Ranking System schedule. By winning in Cloverdale, Team Knezevic was awarded 2,500 points, and those points could be valuable as the season moves along.
The top two teams on the CTRS list will receive berths in the B.C. Scotties.
The actual qualifying tournaments, meanwhile, are slated for Nov. 15-17 in Lake Cowichan, Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 in Kelowna and Dec. 13-15 in Maple Ridge. From those competitions, seven more rinks will nab spots in provincials. The remaining berth, meanwhile, already belongs to Scott.
Rusnell said the plan for the P.G. foursome is to take the events one at a time and to not dwell on the intended destination -- that being the B.C. Scotties.
"The dream scenario would be winning provincials at home but the same work has to go into it," she said. "We still have to qualify and spend our season working towards a final at home."
A second Prince George team -- formed by Tracey Jones, Falon Burkitt, Kay-Lynn Thompson and Melinda Kotsch -- will also be taking a run at a berth in the B.C. Scotties this season.
The winning rink will move on to the national Scotties, Feb. 1-9 in Montreal.