Gritty Alberta bows out in semifinal, 'proud' of successful Scotties run

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The task was a tall one for Alberta on the final day of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Maybe a tad too high in the sky, as it turned out.

To reach the end-goal — the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts title — the Edmonton rink skipped by Laura Walker needed to cut down the three most terrifying teams of the 10-day tournament …

All in the same day.

Try as they might Sunday with a never-say-die attitude, the Albertans just couldn’t make it happen in the Calgary curling bubble.

“I’m feeling a little bit of everything, I guess,” said Walker fighting to talk through tears moments after Alberta’s Scotties adventure ended short of ultimate success Sunday afternoon. Down 9-3 after eight ends, Walker conceded the semifinal to Team Canada.

“But I’m really proud of my team (third Kate Cameron, second Taylor McDonald, lead Rachel Brown, alternate Dan Ferguson and coach Shannon Pynn). Our backs were against the wall for six or seven games, and we just ran out of steam.”

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To win their first Scotties honour, they would have to go through a daunting lineup on the final day of the national women’s curling championship.

First, they faced Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones, a six-time Scotties queen, in the morning tiebreaker.

Then, it was reigning champ Team Canada, skipped by Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson, in the afternoon semifinal.

A win there would have meant a date in the evening final with Ontario and Rachel Homan, a three-time Scotties champion …

That made for quite a schedule after what already had been nine jam-packed days of intense and emotional times at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre.

Team Alberta, Bronze medal winners, ( L-R )skip Laura Walker, third Kate Cameron, second Taylor McDonald, lead Rachel Brown, Alternate Dana Ferguson, coach Shannon Pynn. Scotties Tournament of Hearts 2021, the Canadian Women’s Curling Championship.
Team Alberta, Bronze medal winners, ( L-R )skip Laura Walker, third Kate Cameron, second Taylor McDonald, lead Rachel Brown, Alternate Dana Ferguson, coach Shannon Pynn. Scotties Tournament of Hearts 2021, the Canadian Women’s Curling Championship. Photo by Andrew Klaver /Andrew Klaver/ @ andrew@andrewkl

“I don’t think we saw it as too daunting,” said McDonald. “I think we were thankful for the opportunity to be here and we’re happy with our performance. And I think we knew we had it in us to keep going, but we just kind of ran out of steam at the end there.”

In the tiebreaker, it didn’t look good early, with Walker wrecking on guards in both the first and third ends and Manitoba able to build up a 4-1 lead through three.

But the stars of the Saville Community Sports Centre were able to throw out the sluggish start, gather themselves and get back in it — much like they had done all week.

“I knew I had it in me to play better than what I was playing in those first few ends,” Walker said. “To be honest, the early morning really got to me and it just took me a few ends to stop trying to make the shots. I was trying too hard to make them instead of throwing it clean, and once I got over that and just focused on the process is when I started making more.

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“I’m glad my teammates hung in with me there.”

Indeed, Walker got stronger as the game went on, with a steal in five getting Alberta back in the game and continuing to counter-punch — thanks in large part to the shot-making of McDonald — all the way to the pivotal 10th end.

Trailing by two, the gritty Albertans made clutch shots while Manitoba third Kaitlyn Lawes — a two-time Olympic queen — and Jones — chasing best-ever seventh Scotties title — missed when it mattered most, allowing Walker an easy draw for three to end the game 9-8 in shocking fashion.

Manitoba allowed just two three-enders without hammer during the week, but both came against Alberta — in Pool A play and then in the tiebreaker.

“We try not to focus who’s on the other side,” Walker said. “I mean … obviously, it feels good (to beat Jones), but we could’ve been playing anyone in that game and the win would’ve meant the same. So we’re playing the rocks out there in our minds.”

But getting right back onto the ice in the semifinal against the defending champs proved to be overwhelming, especially given it was their 15th game in just 10 days.

After two scrambly ends, Canada took a 3-1 lead in the third on a two-count when Einarson executed a draw with last rock. But when they tried to return the favour, the hammer Walker threw in the fourth rolled too far to give them just one.

From there, it was all Einarson & Co., as they blanked the fifth and then got three in the sixth — although they could’ve counted a whopping six except that the Canada skip’s last rock heading for a game-ending take-out rubbed off a guard.

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Another shot at two in the seventh by Alberta ended with one after Walker couldn’t get past a Canada stone, and the 9-3 game was capped in the eighth end by a count of three more for the crew from Gimli, Man.

“We didn’t throw the rock well enough,” said Walker, who’s rink had won six straight ahead of the semi. “When you start to get tired and you haven’t practised in the last year, the technical part of the game is the first to go. Our releases, in particular, were all over the place, and when you throw the rock differently every time on a fairly tricky sheet of the ice, it’s really hard to learn what’s happening and hard to make your shots. We struggled with that precision out there in the afternoon.

“But this week just really showed us that we can hang in there with anyone,” Walker added. “I think that if we play our best, we can beat the best. I think it gave us a little bit of confidence going into the (Olympic) Trials run.”

tsaelhof@postmedia.com

http://www.twitter.com/ToddSaelhofPM

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