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Six-time champion Jones will return to Hearts as coach of Nova Scotia's Team Smith

Colleen Jones Colleen Jones - The Canadian Press

Colleen Jones was a regular at the Canadian women's curling championship for most of her playing career.

She's set to return to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts next month in a different role.

Jones, a six-time champion who played in a record 21 editions of the national women's playdowns, will be wearing Nova Scotia colours again — this time as a coach — after guiding Heather Smith's team to victory over the weekend in Halifax.

"Coaching is a whole other ball of wax for me," Jones said. "I think I know what I want to hear from a coach, so I try to give that."

Smith played third and skipped the team to a 6-4 win over Christina Black in a final that went to an extra end. Jill Brothers, who will make her seventh career Hearts appearance, throws fourth stones.

Marie Christianson — who skipped Prince Edward Island in her sixth career Hearts appearance last season — plays second and Erin Carmody, who has played at the nationals on three previous occasions, is lead.

"This team throws the rock really, really well," Jones said. "Their biggest obstacle through the (season) was just getting out of their own head and realizing all the experience they have is really valuable. So to beat Christina was huge."

A few other teams have also booked their tickets for the Feb. 16-25 Hearts at Calgary's WinSport Event Centre.

Skylar Ackerman won in Saskatchewan over the weekend and Melissa Adams took the New Brunswick title. Kerry Galusha was victorious in the Northwest Territories.

They'll join an 18-team field that includes defending champion Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., Yukon's Bayly Scoffin and pre-qualified teams skipped by Ottawa's Rachel Homan and Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones.

Several championships — including those in powerhouse provinces like Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba — are scheduled for this week. Many men's team playdowns will run concurrently ahead of the March 1-10 Montana's Brier in Regina.

The top two teams in the Canadian women's rankings that don't qualify via provincial/territorial championships will round out the Hearts field.

Winnipeg's Kaitlyn Lawes has a comfortable lead in the race for the first spot. Edmonton's Selena Sturmay is next with a slim advantage over Ottawa's Danielle Inglis, Corryn Brown of Kamloops, B.C., and Winnipeg rinks skipped by Kate Cameron and Jolene Campbell.

A second berth was made available after Nunavut's recent withdrawal from the competition.

Jones won her first Hearts title in 1982. She won again in 1999 and took four straight titles from 2001-04. She shares the record for most national titles with Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer.

It will be the first time that Smith has skipped at the Hearts since 2014. She finished 4-7 that year with Brothers at third and a front end of Blisse Joyce and Teri Lake.

"Heather is such a knowledgeable player and student of the game," Jones said. "She's able to read rocks well. She just really owns the skip position. So on the back end, that's our secret sauce."

The Halifax-based foursome is in its first season together.

"We've talked strategy a ton and she's just always willing to learn and put a positive spin on everything," Brothers said of teaming with Smith again. "She's a treat to play with, so it's been very cool to have her back on the ice."

In addition to coaching duties, Jones still plays at competitive curling events. She represented Nova Scotia at the Canadian mixed curling championship earlier this season.

Her curling calendar will be busy this winter. She also plans to attend the Brier now that her son, Luke Saunders, qualified by winning the Nova Scotia men's crown.

First up though, is preparing the members of Team Smith for the Hearts.

"I (plan to) keep them confident and in practice, show how great they're throwing," Jones said. "They just need to forget who they're playing and just play the rocks and not let any kind of worry (seep in) about (the strong opposition).

"But I still think everyone is beatable. And I love a good David and Goliath story."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2024.

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