Judy LaBelle surprised even herself at the senior women’s provincial playdowns in Blind River last week.
She and her rink of third Mary Beth Tkachuk, second Maureen Thomson, and lead Trudy Badiuk came in with a goal of winning three games.
But the team won four—and a fifth would have sent them to Ottawa to compete at the national playdowns March 20-27.
“It was awesome,” enthused LaBelle. “My team played really, really well.”
The only roadblock was Vicky Barrett of Sudbury, who downed LaBelle twice, including 9-2 in Sunday’s final.
The local skip admitted she was a little taken aback at having made the championship game.
“I knew we could do it if we played well, but I honestly didn’t think that we would be there in the end,” she remarked.
“We actually exceeded our expectations.”
The locals knew they were clear underdogs heading into the final as LaBelle estimated Barrett had played roughly five times as many matches this season alone.
“In comparison, they’d played 100 games and we had played about 20,” LaBelle explained. “It was a major factor.
“They’re a very consistent team, and for us, our only factor was our consistency,” she noted.
“They’ve been to the nationals. This will be their third trip,” LaBelle added.
“And they curl in the cashspiel circuit, too.”
One benefit of playing against such an experienced rink was the vast opportunities for learning, and LaBelle said she did just that—picking the brains of Barrett’s coaches.
“They gave me some really good pointers to use in practice,” LaBelle said. “They told me how to structure our practices and make our practices competitive and, like they said, just bring the edge up a bit.
“So it makes a lot of sense.”
LaBelle fell behind early in Sunday’s final, giving up four in the first end to go along with steals of two in the second and one more in the third to trail 7-0.
The locals got on the board with a single in the fourth, but Barrett struck back for two in the fifth.
LaBelle picked up one in the sixth, but the teams exchanged handshakes after that.
LaBelle felt the blowout score flattered Barrett to a certain extent, but did give her opponent credit for taking advantage of the available opportunities.
“We just missed a couple key shots, got in trouble early, and that’s the way it went,” she reasoned.
In the round-robin portion, LaBelle trounced her three opponents from Port Arthur, downing Barbara Ward 10-3, Marion Clark 7-4, and Cristiene Hall-Teravainen 10-5 in her first three games.
A 14-8 loss to Barrett followed on Saturday as the Sudbury foursome counted four in the first end and five in the third to forge ahead 9-3.
“They jumped on us and we clawed on back. We just couldn’t get them,” bemoaned LaBelle.
But the local rink righted itself with a hard-fought 6-4 win over Joy Lappalainen (Fort William) later Saturday, which LaBelle called her toughest match of the weekend.
“I had to shoot against six at one point, but we managed to make the shot,” she recalled. “We had to bail out a couple of times, but we managed to do it.
“We curled really, really well, especially against the Thunder Bay girls,” LaBelle lauded. “Those were four really good games.
“We got the jump on them, and we were just executing, and the ice was fabulous,” she added.