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Kerri Einarson curling team silencing the question of too many skips

CALGARY — Kerri Einarson heard the comments and questions.

CALGARY — Kerri Einarson heard the comments and questions. Four skips on one curling team, how is that going to work?

Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur, who all skipped their own teams in 2017-18, have won four World Curling Tour events to open this season.

The team's most recent victory was beating reigning world champion Jennifer Jones in Monday's final of the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Classic in Calgary.

"Everyone was kind of like 'Well, let's see how four skips can sweep' or 'Who is going to call the game? Who is going to call the shots?'" Einarson told The Canadian Press prior to the final.

"I think we have kind of put that to rest now. We've proven four skips can come together and can play different positions."

Now Einarson's vice, Sweeting twice skipped Alberta to the final of the Canadian women's championship. She lost to Rachel Homan in 2014 and Jones in 2015.

The 31-year-old from Vegreville, Alta., is the out-of-province member of the Einarson rink with the rest from the Winnipeg area.

Birchard, 24, is playing second after skipping teams the last several years. 

She subbed in at third on Jones' team that won February's national championship, while Kaitlyn Lawes prepared to play mixed doubles at the Winter Olympics.

Meilleur, 26, is playing lead for the first time in her life.

Several women's and men's teams disbanded and re-formed after last season for a run at the next Olympic trials in 2021.

Not only did the four women on Team Einarson have to adapt to each other's personalities, three of them had to adjust to unfamiliar positions.

"I didn't think it was risky at all," Einarson said. "We're all still really young and have many years of curling left in us. We were all on board with it and determined to make this work.

"We all have pretty much the same personalities. We're all pretty laid-back and not overbearing which is good."

Knowing they'd be sweeping a lot more than ever before, Sweeting, Birchard and Meilleur hit the gym hard in the off-season working on upper-body strength and cardiovascular bursts.

"I started working with a personal trainer five to six days a week over the summer," Birchard said. "The first month was killer, but it was definitely worth it. Every time I go to the gym now, it's making our lives on the ice just a little bit easier because I'm not dying out there.

"All the front ends that are doing extremely well are in extremely great shape. We knew if we wanted to be at that level, we had to bring that to the table as well."

Added Sweeting: "I learned how intense Shannon's workouts are. I worked out in Edmonton all summer and thought it was good and then I went and did a workout with her at her gym and I almost died."

Meilleur always knew lead stones were important when she skipped, but the impact of misses really hits home now that she's throwing the first stones for her team.

"If I'm struggling a little bit, it makes it harder on everyone else all through the end," she explained. "I have to watch it unfold and think 'I did this.'

"I've always been really hard on myself and I found I've had to quickly get over whatever happened to me and support the rest of the girls throughout the end."

Similar to a biathlete stopping to shoot targets, stepping into the hack with her heart pounding from hard sweeping was new sensation to Birchard.

"Your heart rate is elevated the entire game so when you go back and sit in the hack, you have to take that extra breath to re-set and get yourself mentally prepared to throw the weight and shot being called," Birchard said.

After years of shouldering the pressure and responsibility of skipping, Sweeting admits it's a little bit of a relief to hand that off to the 31-year-old Einarson.

What's changed for her throwing third stones is making sure if Plan A doesn't materialize with her shots, she's left Einarson a Plan B.

"I'm really enjoying the more supportive role that I can play on the team," Sweeting said.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press