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Jones has Oly berth in sight

Winnipeg skip will have hammer in Saturday's final

Jennifer Jones (above) directs the brushing of third Kaitlyn Lawes during a 6-5 victory over Heather Nedohin Thursday afternoon.

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Jennifer Jones (above) directs the brushing of third Kaitlyn Lawes during a 6-5 victory over Heather Nedohin Thursday afternoon. (JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

She has worked half her lifetime -- quite literally -- towards this singular goal.

And now that the moment has finally arrived, she will enjoy -- again, quite literally -- every conceivable advantage.

She will have hammer. She will have her choice of rocks. And she will have the crowd -- a big, boisterous and very knowledgeable hometown crowd.

And so there is a sense it is now or never for Winnipeg skip Jennifer Jones as she attempts to win the last remaining thing still missing from her long list of curling accomplishments -- the right to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics.

With a bye into Saturday night's women's final at the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings, Jones has never been this close to her 20-year quest to be an Olympian. And, at age 39, there's a very good chance she will never be this close again.

And she knows it.

"It's a big game, obviously. It's a huge game," Jones said Thursday after a last-rock 6-5 win over Heather Nedohin at the MTS Centre capped off her team's round robin at 6-1. "The chance only comes around every four years and I'm not getting any younger. And it's at home.

"So yeah, it's huge. But I've always had really good perspective about curling -- it's a game. And at the end of the day, I have a baby girl who I love to death. And win or lose, that's always going to be the case."

It wasn't always the case.

Despite her protestations, there was a time not so very long ago when you couldn't help but get the feeling the curling ice was where Jones's world began and ended and everything else in her life, including a high-powered legal career, just stood in the way of her doing what she really wanted to be doing.

But a new relationship with someone who understands that lifestyle better than most -- Glenn Howard second Brent Laing -- and then the birth of their daughter Isabella in November 2012 has changed Jones, by her own admission, and provided some balance to her busy life.

And so while the chance to become an Olympian with just one more win this weekend is as precious as it's been elusive for Jones, you also get the sense she has already made peace with whatever happens when she faces the winner of tonight's semifinal between Ottawa's Rachel Homan and the victor of a tiebreaker game this afternoon between Chelsea Carey and Sherry Middaugh.

"Right now we feel really good with the ice, we feel really good with the speed, we feel really good with our team and our team dynamic," said Jones. "So everything we wanted to have in place is in place. And so now it's up to us to go out and do our best and, hopefully, we just want a shot to win."

A shot to win. There was a time not long ago when there was no one in the world of women's curling better than Jones with the game on the line. But after taking down three straight Canadian titles from 2008-10, Jones made a now infamous lineup change at third, dumping Cathy Overton-Clapham in favour of Kaitlyn Lawes.

In their fourth season together, the Jones team with Lawes at third -- the front end of Dawn Askin and Jill Officer never changed -- has remained a world powerhouse on the cash tour.

But where it really matters -- at a national Scotties Tournament of Hearts that was once there personal playground -- they have known only disappointment since Lawes joined the squad, losing the 2011 and 2013 finals and the 2012 semifinal.

For all the winning this team has done in recent years, it remains a cold, hard fact a win in the trials final would be a first of its kind for this team as it is presently configured.

So why is it going to end differently Saturday than it did at the Scotties against Amber Holland in 2011, Heather Nedohin in 2012 and Rachel Homan last February?

"Well, we're hoping it's going to be different," said Jones, laughing.

Yeah, I get that, but why -- why will this team close the deal this time? For that answer, I had to turn to Lawes, who once again led the field in shooting percentage this week but through four seasons with Jones has still yet to prove that she can rise to the occasion in the biggest of games -- the one at week's end.

"We built this team to play in these trials," Lawes said. "And every other experience we've had, including all those Scotties, was about getting more games and more experience in leading up to this event.

"I think we're exactly where we want to be right now."

Well, not exactly. But really, really close.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

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