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Veteran Jones not ready to cede top spot to upstart Homan just yet

It’s likely Ontario skip Rachel Homan and Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones will meet again with more on the line in Kingston.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

One is playing in her ninth tournament in a row, this time on a surgically rebuilt knee at 38 and only three months after giving birth.

The other is a rising star in the sport, just 23 and making her second appearance at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

But while the back stories of the two skips, Manitoba's Jennifer Jones and Ontario's Rachel Homan, couldn't be more different, they have one thing in common this week in Kingston.

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They're the favourites.

Jones got the better of Round 1 of their battle on Thursday, narrowly coming out on top 9-7 to hand Homan her first loss of the Scotties and ending a run of 30 consecutive wins for the young team from Ottawa.

Both teams, however, concede that this was only a warm-up. With Manitoba and Ontario sitting 1-2 in the standings before Thursday's evening draw, heading into the final day of the round robin on Friday, it's likely they will meet again with much more on the line.

"We hope so," said Ontario coach Earle Morris, who was in an odd spot having coached Jones during the 2010-11 season. "All we can do is control our own destiny by winning a whole bunch of games."

That doesn't appear it'll be a problem. Manitoba and Ontario are both shooting better than 80 per cent to lead the field, with Jones's incredible 93-per-cent performance in the win narrowly putting her ahead of Homan (86 to 85) as the top skip entering Thursday night's draws.

The numbers from Jones aren't particularly surprising, her recent surgery notwithstanding. The Winnipeg lawyer is making her 10th Scotties appearance (including nine in a row) and as a four-time winner and former world champ, has the sort of credentials that make pretty much anything possible at this tournament.

But Homan is headed for similar territory in time. After a sterling junior career that included silver at the worlds, she is already in her second Scotties after finishing fourth in her first year of eligibility two years ago.

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And both are playing in two curling hotbeds, where even making it out of the provincial playdowns can be difficult.

If there's a comparison to be made between the two skips, it's in their competitiveness. On Thursday, Jones recalled how, after surgery last June, she was pregnant and in physiotherapy just 24 hours later in an attempt to get ready for the curling season.

"I was very determined," Jones said matter-of-factly.

"I don't think anybody loves curling more than me, and I worked my butt off to be back."

Homan, who is a personal trainer, already has her own fiery reputation, one that came out in Thursday's game. With her team questioning the call and down by two early, she went for a risky takeout that threaded the needle between two guards in a decisive point in the game.

The gamble worked. She made the shot, the home crowd went wild and Ontario put three on the board in the fifth end against one of the best teams in the world to take a 5-4 lead.

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"I've been around Rachel long enough to know that anything is possible when she goes and tries it," Morris said, adding that one thing he and Homan have worked hard on is picking when to be aggressive. "It turned out to be a great choice. We got a three banger out of it. That was a beauty.

"I probably would have said play the draw, but I like the way she made up her mind."

Neither side was particularly ready to brand the Jones-Homan matchup a rivalry just yet, especially given how few big games these teams have faced each other in and Jones's absence for much of the season.

After another meeting or two here in Kingston, however, that could change, especially given these skips appear poised to compete on curling's biggest stages again and again in the Scotties and Olympic trials to come.

"I don't know if we can say we're looking up to them," Ontario third Emma Miskew said. "We think we can beat them and they can beat us and it's just high-level curling."

"They're great players," Jones added. "Hopefully we'll get to play them lots because that means we're both doing well."

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Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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