When Brandon’s Stacey Fordyce created a new curling team last season, she made sure there were five players on it just in case someone couldn’t make an event.
The move proved valuable during November and even more this week as Fordyce won’t be in Virden to skip her team at the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which starts Wednesday at the Tundra Oil and Gas Place.
Part of Fordyce’s prize for skipping the team that won the national women’s Dominion Curling Club championship in November is to be in Banff, Alta., this weekend to take part in the TSN skins event, which means she’ll miss the provincial women’s curling playdowns.
With Fordyce away, Kelsey Russill is taking over the skipping duties for the Brandon foursome, while Janelle Schwindt steps up to third, fifth Kristy Howard moves into second and Roz Ripley remains at lead. This lineup, however, is hardly new for the group as they played in these positions during November when Fordyce was focused on her Dominion team and Russill doesn’t feel out of place moving into her new skipping role.
"We had several league games together because Stacey was gone in November, so it’s not going to be a completely unheard of thing for me to skip this team," Russill said. "I curled with Kristy a couple years ago competitively and the other girls last year. I’m not actually that uncomfortable going into the week."
One of the biggest reasons why Russill, a 28-year-old nurse, feels comfortable is her previous experience at the Scotties. In 2012 she skipped a team, with Howard at second, to a 3-4 record, before joining Fordyce’s team at third last year when they went 2-5 at the Scotties.
This year’s event will have a slightly different feel for Russill. Virden is close to her family and friends in both Brandon and her hometown of Maryfield, Sask., as opposed to the last two years when provincials were held in Portage la Prairie and Stonewall, so she’s expecting a lot of fan support.
However, Russill doesn’t want to set unrealistic goals for her team this week, and is hoping to finish the event with at least three wins.
"I think definitely trying to have one or two more wins than last year," she said. "I would be happy with the same standings as my first year just because I didn’t skip the whole year. Three wins would be awesome, four wins would be great."
Russill, who opens the Scotties on Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. when she takes on Michelle Montford, has been placed in the same group as fellow Brandonite Kortney Teale and Dauphin’s Lisa Menard as all three Western Manitoba squads will go head-to-head. The top seeds in the pool are Montford (third), Barb Spencer (second) and Janet Harvey (sixth).
Like Russill, Teale hopes to lean on her experience at previous Scotties to help her through the week, although this will be her first time competing as a skip. Teale appeared in last year’s event as Liza Park’s lead, and was Tina Kozak’s third in 2011 and 2009. The 33-year-old nurse admits she’s comfortable as a skip, but feels her time at third, and especially at lead last year, will help her out.
"I used to skip quite a bit in high school and juniors and that," Teale said. "I played third for years. I played lead for Liza for one year … and it helped me become a better curler. At third I threw a lot of hits and this made me a better drawer."
This is the first year Teale’s team has been together, but there are some familiar faces on the team. Her sister, Pam Robins, is playing third, with Kristen McLellan and Jolene Cumming on the front end.
Since the first-year team hasn’t been on the bonspiel circuit much this season, Teale feels one of her team’s biggest strengths is that other teams haven’t faced her before. However, she isn’t setting her goals too high for the week.
"Our main goal is just to have fun, go out there and get some experience," she said. "It would be great to get lots and lots of games. Our main goal is to see how it goes, play one shot at a time and do the best that we can."
The other pool is highlighted by top-seed Chelsea Carey, fourth seed Darcy Robertson and fifth seed Kerri Einarson. They begin play on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.
The round robin will wrap up on Saturday, with the 1-vs.-1 Page playoff game set for that night at 6 o’clock, broadcast live on Sportsnet West. The semifinal is slated for Sunday at 11:30 a.m., and will be shown on Sportsnet One, as will the championship final, which follows at 4 p.m.