After two years away from competitive curling, Tracey Jones, Kay-Lynn Thompson and Melinda Kotsch are once again throwing rocks at rings.
They want to give themselves the chance to play in a provincial championship tournament on home ice. Jones, Thompson and Kotsch -- longtime teammates earlier in their careers -- have their sights set on qualifying for the 2014 B.C. Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Jan. 6-12 at the Prince George Golf and Curling Club.
"That's why we decided we wanted to have a team this year, with the B.C. Scotties being here in Prince George," Jones said. "It would be a great opportunity to represent our home club."
Jones is the skip, Thompson throws second stones and Kotsch is the lead. The three veterans have teamed with Falon Burkitt, who is two years removed from the junior ranks (see other story). Burkitt is the rink's third and has meshed nicely with the rest of the group.
"It's pretty tough to come into a team where you have three experienced curlers that have curled together for years," Jones said. "She has adjusted well. She's very quiet and she kind of just goes with it.
"We're all learning from each other," Jones added. "But [Burkitt] is definitely up there with her skill level."
Jones, Thompson and Kotsch used to play alongside Patti Knezevic. On two occasions, the foursome made it all the way to the championship game of the B.C. Scotties but lost, 7-6 in an extra end to Kelly Scott in 2005 and 10-4 to Kelley Law in 2007. The P.G. team didn't qualify for the Scotties in 2008, which proved to be its final year together.
While Jones, Thompson and Kotsch were on a curling leave the past couple seasons, Knezevic remained active. She's now in her second year with a rink that features Kristen Fewster at third, Jen Rusnell at second and Rhonda Camozzi at lead. Knezevic's crew -- which lost last season's B.C. final 9-6 to Scott -- is also eyeing a spot in this year's provincials.
Jones would love to see both local rinks qualify for the tournament, which will determine B.C.'s representative at the national Scotties, Feb. 1-9 in Montreal.
"We always see a lot of Vancouver teams [at the B.C. Scotties] so if we can have two solid, competitive teams at our hometown [provincials], definitely we want to have the best showing that we can," she said.
The provincial qualifiers are Nov. 15-17 in Lake Cowichan, Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 in Kelowna and Dec. 13-15 in Maple Ridge. A total of seven teams will advance out of those events, three from the Lake Cowichan tournament and two each from the Kelowna and Maple Ridge gatherings. Berths will also go to the top two B.C. teams in the Canadian Team Ranking System and one will be handed to Scott, whose Kelowna rink has claimed the B.C. Scotties title for the last four years in a row.
Jones and her teammates haven't yet decided if they'll travel to Lake Cowichan for the first qualifier. If not, they'll be in Kelowna at the end of November and, if necessary, Maple Ridge in December.
To date this season, Jones and company have played in two World Curling Tour events -- the Cloverdale Cash Spiel in late September and the Kamloops Crown of Curling a couple weekends ago. At both tournaments, they won two games and lost three. In Kamloops, they even had the chance to test themselves against rinks from China (9-3 win) and Korea (6-5 loss). Also in Kamloops, they went up against Knezevic and lost 6-3.
Jones is satisfied with the team's results in both events.
"It went OK, really, for the first time being out and not hitting the ice and being out of it for two years," she said. "I'm excited for what the playdowns will bring."
Jones is also happy just to be back, throwing stones in a competitive environment.
"Being off two years, you're not sure when you come back if you're going to be competitive or how far off the mark you're going to be," she said. "We've had some really good games against some of the teams that we've played in [past] provincials and it feels good."