Cindy Ricci's curling foursome are carrying Estevan's hopes into the 2023 Viterra Scotties, which begin at Affinity Place on Wednesday night.
Ricci, the skip, along with third Kristy Johnson, second Tamara Kapell, and lead Natalie Bloomfield qualified for provincials at a last chance qualifier in North Battleford early in the new year. That means they get to play in front of friends and family on home ice against Saskatchewan's best teams. Kapell and Bloomfield are sisters, while Johnson is their cousin.
"We're very excited. We haven't curled for about five years, Tamara our second hasn't curled competitively for 12 years. We've just obviously been busy with our families and work," said Johnson, who lives in Estevan and is the principal at Hillcrest School.
"We decided to do a couple bonspiels this year. We were unsure if we were going to enter playdowns but knowing the provincials were in Estevan at Affinity Place, we didn't want to miss an opportunity to play at Affinity, so we're very excited and it's always a privilege to have the opportunity to play on arena ice, but playing at Affinity will be extra special," she said.
Johnson is also hoping she'll get a chance to play in front of her students.
"We have 100 students coming and watching on Thursday at 9 a.m., so I'm actually hoping that we win the 7:30 Wednesday night draw because then I'll get to play in front of my students, which would be extra special," she said.
Johnson added that they haven't put any extra pressure on themselves even though they are the only local rink competing.
"I don't know if it's pressure, but just excitement. We don't have pressure on ourselves, because we just wanted to put in a team together this year for fun. It's been a stressful last couple years, and as a team we just decided to do something for ourselves," she said.
"Our goal wasn't winning provincials, but now that we're here and in this position we've re-evaluated and we're hoping to play consistently and see what happens."
Johnson said she expects a relatively even playing field at the Scotties.
"In Saskatchewan, it's a little more open than some other provinces. However, there are some favourites," she said. "Penny Barker has had a phenomenal couple years, and they would definitely be the most consistent team in the province right now, so she would be a favourite. But there's always an open door for any team at provincials and that's what makes it exciting in our province. Anybody can win."
Johnson also talked about the keys for her team to have success.
"The key for our team is going to be mental preparation. Like I said, we haven't curled a lot. We've only played 15 games this whole year," she said. "So in terms of success for our team, it's going to be to capitalize on our strengths as a team. We're a finesse team."
"Cindy Ricci has a lot of experience as a skip, she's had success as a skip, she calls a really smart game. She likes to have rocks in play, she's aggressive. So we'll just use that style of play and we'll see what happens."