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Homan has Ottawa foursome in top form after returning to full skip duties

Rachel Homan Rachel Homan - The Canadian Press

After tinkering with positions in the first season of the quadrennial after the arrival of Tracy Fleury, Rachel Homan is back in the house and has skipped her team to the top of the Canadian rankings.

The rink had Fleury at skip last season and throwing third stones with Emma Miskew moving to second and Sarah Wilkes switching to lead. This season, Homan is back in her familiar skip position and is getting results.

"I think the fact that everyone was outside their comfort zone at the same time (last season) made it a little bit more of a learning curve for us," Miskew said. "We embraced it and loved every minute of learning something new, but you're still learning something new so it still does take some time. This season, it's a little less so."

The team earned two Grand Slam titles last season but did not make it to weekend play at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. This season, Homan has won three bonspiels and brings an impressive 26-3 record into the WFG Masters starting Tuesday in Saskatoon.

"We're still fine-tuning what we need to do to make more shots and win more games," Homan said in a recent interview. "It has been a really good start to the season."

Homan won the PointsBet Invitational and finished second at last month's Kioti National on the Slam circuit. She's on top of the Canadian ranking list ahead of Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes and Kerri Einarson — all from Manitoba — and No. 5 Selena Sturmay of Alberta.

Grand Slam commentator Mike Harris said Homan seems more settled on the ice this season.

"If we look at what happened over the last year, she kind of called the game anyway around Tracy," he said. "So Tracy accepting her new role is going to be critical. I don't think the dynamic has changed much really although it's a little bit improved for Rachel.

"But they're just such a good team. They just make so many shots so they're going to win lots of games."

Fleury was one of the game's top skips in the last quadrennial. She reached the final of the Olympic Trials for the 2022 Winter Games but lost to Jones in an extra end.

Miskew said Fleury has been "crushing it" since joining the Ottawa-based team last year.

"You wouldn't know that she had never swept or played third before," she said. "She's doing such a great job."

Homan's team will be among the favourites at Merlis Belcher Place this week in a field that includes Lawes, Jones, the defending champion Einarson and world No. 1 Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland.

"It's just playing together and getting used to new communication and the way people think and the way people want to approach the game," Homan said. "The positions don't matter so much. It's good that we're in Year 2 of communicating with each other and figuring out how we best communicate."

The team has worked with a variety of coaches — including Marcel Rocque, Earle Morris, Adam Kingsbury and Ryan Fry — in recent seasons. Don Bartlett is on board as coach for this campaign.

Homan has already pre-qualified for the 2024 Scotties based on her ranking from last season.

"Rachel is playing as well as I've seen her play in quite a few years," Harris said. "It has been refreshing to see that they're back playing very well. I expect more of the same from them. There's no reason to think they can't keep it up."

This will be the first Grand Slam since a group of players met with event organizers to discuss format changes on the circuit this season. Tiebreaker games have since returned to the schedule for the Masters and next month's Co-op Canadian Open.

However, an unusual format for the 16-team fields remains in place. All teams play crossover round-robin games against teams in a different pool.

Pool A teams will play Pool D teams and Pool B teams play Pool C teams. The top eight teams overall will advance to the playoffs.

The men's field is headlined by top-ranked Joel Retornaz of Italy, Scotland's Bruce Mouat, Sweden's Niklas Edin and Calgary's Brendan Bottcher.

If tiebreaker games are necessary, they'll begin at 7 a.m. local time on Saturday. Quarterfinals and semifinals will follow later that day ahead of Sunday's finals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2023.

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