You didn’t just feel the tension, you could see it, too.
Before they stepped onto the ice for their first draw at the Northwestern Ontario ladies’ playdowns here last Thursday, the local Kathie Jackson rink stretched and limbered up to prepare their joints for the three-day competition.
They stood there looking at each other with their brooms in their hands and positive thoughts sweeping through their minds.
They, which includes third Colleen Scrimger, second Charlotte Bazylewski, and lead Stacy Beacham, didn’t really know what to expect from themselves—and with good reason.
“There were no goals or expectations. We just wanted to go out and play our best and just have a good time,” said Bazylewski. “We didn’t set any goals for ourselves because how can you when you put your team together three days before the event?”
Yes, you read that right. Three days before the event.
Facing the best ladies’ teams from Northwestern Ontario, including six from Thunder Bay, the “Jackson Four” felt a need to enter into the playdowns, not for themselves but for the Town of Fort Frances.
“Granted the other seven teams here play together all year and play in cash ’spiels,” noted Jackson. “They are here to win. And not that we’re not here to win, but we’re more here to try our best and give Fort Frances someone to watch.
“Most of the people around here may not know the other teams for whatever reason, so they have someone to cheer for and come out and they then get to know who the other teams are,” she added.
They lost that first draw to Amy Stachiw (Port Arthur Curling Club) 12-6, but then a funny thing started to happen.
Trailing 7-4 to Christine Eby (Fort William Curling Club) heading into the ninth end of the second draw Thursday night, Jackson scored a five-ender, then stole one in the 10th to pull out a 10-7 win.
“I think we had excitement in not knowing what to expect because we hadn’t curled together very much,” noted Scrimger. “And we started off a little slow, but got back up to speed and started to enjoy ourselves.”
The other tams certainly knew of Jackson and her accomplishments, which included four-straight Ontario Scott appearances between 1998 and 2001 (Beacham was a lead with her for the 2001 appearance), but they didn’t really expect a significant challenge this time around.
And how could they? The four all had competed competitively before, but this was the first time they had all been on the same team. But they felt an obligation to the town to put forth a team to bring the people out.
Anything else was just gravy.
“We didn’t know if we were going to be competitive. We didn’t know if we were going to be to the calibre we needed to be, but after the first day we knew that we were up for this,” said Scrimger.
A tough test faced them Friday morning in the rink of Tara George (Fort William Curling Club) who, before last year’s narrow loss to Angela Lee (FWCC), had appeared in three-consecutive Ontario Scotts.
But that didn’t seem to faze Jackson as the local rink gave George her toughest competition up to that point—leading 4-1 after five ends before falling 6-5.
Then in the afternoon draw, Jackson battled back to dump Dawn Sauve (Dryden) 9-1 to even her record at 2-2—tied with Lee and Stachiw behind the front-runners of George and Krista Scharf of the FWCC (4-0).
“I haven’t competed at this level of competition in years and I was curling with good players, so I was very excited,” said Bazylewski, who has curled for 22 years.
Up next on Saturday morning was Lee, originally from Stratton, who went to the provincials last year and who won an all-Ontario curling title for Rainy River High School in 1999.
In a back-and-forth match, Jackson stunned Lee—and the many fans upstairs in the curling club’s lounge who had come out to support the local rink—with a 10-8 win.
“It was great that all the people did come out to watch because that’s why we were initially in this, so we accomplished what we wanted to,” Jackson noted.
The Jackson quartet was now 3-2 and in third place behind Scharf (5-0) and George (4-1), with the top two teams advancing to the provincials in Ottawa later this month.
Here was the scenario the Jackson rink needed to put them in a position to advance: they faced a must-win game against Michelle Boland (FWCC) on Saturday afternoon and also needed George to lose to Stachiw (Scharf, by virtue of her 6-5 victory over George on Saturday morning, already had secured one of the two provincial berths).
Here’s how it played out . . .
Jackson jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first end, but it was all Boland after that as the Thunder Bay crew cruised to an 11-4 victory.
“This last game was probably our worst game as a whole,” said Beacham.
All eyes now were on George-Stachiw match—the result of which would decide the outcome of the playdowns. If George won, she would advance with Scharf and a seventh draw that night would not be necessary.
A loss and the final draw of the round-robin would be needed—with Jackson, Lee, Boland, and Eby still in the hunt at 3-3.
Tensions understandably were high as Stachiw held a 5-3 lead after five ends. But it was George’s veteran experience that took over as she scored four points to Stachiw’s one over the final five ends to pull out a 7-6 victory.
In fact, the game went right down to George’s last stone, which she put on the button to nail down the win.
No seventh draw would be needed. Jackson was out, but her rink certainly didn’t have to depart with bowed heads.
“We wanted to have somebody to represent Fort Frances. We had a lot of people come out and watch us, and lots of people support us, and that was just great,” said Beacham.
“Just to not to be at the bottom of the pack, and to be fighting for second or third is awesome for a throw-together mismatched team,” echoed Bazylewski.
“Everyone’s a great skip when they’re behind the glass, but I know that they respect the fact that we’re out there and trying to make the shots,” added Scrimger.
“We played really well, and [made] the right shots at the right time,” said Jackson. “You definitely want to keep Thunder Bay knowing that we’re not just a little hick town.”
You didn’t just feel the tension, you could see it, too.