ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — Life takes a back seat to curling for the Rachel Homan team these days.
They've dialled down their jobs and limited their social lives in a year of high stakes.
Homan skips host Ontario at the Canadian women's curling championship that begins Saturday. The squad will also be a hometown favourite at December's Olympic trials in Ottawa.
Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Joanne Courtney and lead Lisa Weagle possess the tools and talent to win both, and thus wear the Maple Leaf in next month's world championship and next year's Winter Olympics.
Maximizing their chances to do so means making sacrifices.
"We've all put our careers on hold," Homan said Friday at the Meridian Centre. "We've spent a lot of time together as a team and less so on career.
"We're not seeing our friends and family as much as we'd like to. But they know this is a priority for us and a life-long goal we're trying to achieve and they're 100 per cent behind us. You have to be OK with saying 'No' to things and taking time for yourself and taking time with the team and kind of putting that as a priority."
The World Curling Tour ranks the Ottawa Curling Club foursome as the No. 1 women's team in the world.
Winner of the 2015 Canada Cup, Homan was the first to nail down one of nine women's berths for the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings in Ottawa.
Homan has stepped away from her job as a community ambassador in the RBC Olympians program.
Miskew was a project co-ordinator for Canada's Senate but quit that job just over a year ago to start her own design company and have more flexible hours.
"My biggest issue when I worked for the government was taking almost 50 per cent of the time off between September and April," Miskew explained. "I decided to step back and do my own freelance designing."
Courtney, a registered nurse in Edmonton, picks up a casual shift when she can. Weagle has taken a leave of absence from her communications job with the federal government.
"We have big goals for ourselves and we're trying to position ourselves to do everything we can achieve them," Weagle said.
Homan, Miskew, Weagle and second Alison Kreviazuk won back-to-back Canadian women's crowns in 2013 and 2014, taking bronze and silver respectively at the world championships.
They went 4-3 and lost out in the semifinal of the 2013 Olympic trials.
Homan recruited Courtney when Kreviazuk moved to Sweden in 2014. As of 2015, Curling Canada residency rules allow each team to have one player from out of province.
So there is significant travel to and from Ottawa and Edmonton for all four curlers.
"Definitely leading into Olympic trials, I think family, work, friends, everyone knows I'm going to be where I need to be to make sure the team is ready," Courtney said.
They're considered the team to beat at this year's Scotties Tournament of Hearts, even by defending champion Chelsea Carey of Calgary.
"They're trying to take the target off their back, eh?" Homan said. "I'm going to throw the target back on their back.
"They're a great team and they've had a lot of success."
The championship kicks off Saturday with a marquee matchup between Homan and Carey.
Also part of the opening draw is the final of the pre-tournament qualifier between New Brunswick's Melissa Adams (3-0) and Kerry Galusha of Northwest Territories (2-1).
The victor continues playing in the 12-team main draw. Yukon's Sarah Koltun (1-2) and Nunavut's Geneva Chislett (0-3) were eliminated from contention Friday.
This will be the final year for the unpopular qualifying tournament at the men's and women's national championships.
Curling Canada is changing the format to allow for more equal participation of all provinces and territories in 2018.
The top four teams at the conclusion of the preliminary round next Friday advance to the Page playoff. Ties for fourth will be solved by tiebreaker games.