The second provincials in three years for skip Karynn Flory will be extra special.
"It's super nice to be playing in St. Albert because it's home. That's where I learned to curl so it's kind of got a nostalgic feeling to it," said Flory of the Jiffy Lube Alberta Scotties Tournament of Hearts at the St. Albert Curling Club.
Flory, third Richelle Nanninga (nee Baer), second Sydney Lewko and lead Sarah Brown qualified for the Jan. 25 to 29 championship as the B-event winner at the Northern Alberta Curling Association playdowns last weekend in Fort Saskatchewan.
"It's a really cool opportunity for us to curl and continue on with our competitive careers," said Flory, the 2013 Alberta junior champion.
The Avonair foursome punched their ticket to provincials in Saturday's 9-8 extra end win against Ocean Smart of Lacombe.
"It was quite exhilarating. We were all pretty pumped and the fact that we didn't have to be there on Sunday morning to keep playing was a really good feeling too," said Flory, 24.
The lineup of former college curlers finished 5-1 at the 10-team playdowns.
"The girls were curling awesome behind me. I couldn't have done it without them this weekend. They were just setting up every end. They were keeping their cool, which is really nice. I don't think we ever once really felt nervous on the ice. It was a very relaxing feel out there," Flory said. "Before every game we said OK let's do it and we would go out there and just take it one rock at a time and came out with the wins."
Northerns marked their second competition together after Brown joined the team for the Alberta Tour stop in Lloydminster in late November.
Curling in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, Brown was a skip for Augustana University College when Lewko, who is based out of Grande Prairie, played for the MacEwan University Griffins and Flory and Nanninga rocked the ice with the NAIT Ooks.
"We know her really well. I knew her curling style and I've seen her play so many times because we've played against each other so for her to join us really wasn't too challenging. The girls get along really well. It's all really good personalities and attitudes. We all want to win and we were able to come together to want to win," said Flory, the 2015 ACAC women's curler of the year.
"It's really cool that four players from three completely different teams at one point in time were able to come together and make something happen," added Flory, a former ACAC champion and a multiple Canadian Colleges Athletic Association medallist. "We went in with an open mind. We knew we had a shot. There was a couple of tough teams when we saw the lineups for northerns so we knew it was going to be a challenge."
Northerns started with a quick 8-1 win in six ends against Krysta Hilker of the Granite, followed by a steal of one in nine and 10 to defeat Lindsay Makichuk of the Crestwood 5-4. It was 4-2 Makichuk after six when Flory counted one in seven and the next end was blanked.
The lone loss was 7-4 in nine ends to Holly Baird of the Saville in the A semifinals. The handshakes started after a deuce in nine for Baird.
"We were like it's OK, we didn't make it all the way to the A final but we've now played a couple of teams and we know we can get to the B final," Flory said. "We went in there and kept an open mind about it."
The turning point in the playdowns was against Nicky Kaufman of the Avonair in the team's first game in the B event. Four deuces were the difference in the 9-5 victory in nine ends.
"We knew that Kaufman was a strong team and we knew it was going to be a tough weekend with them competing in it and when we were able to rattle off that win against them Saturday morning I would say that was the boost that we needed to get us through the rest of the day," Flory said.
Another win against Hilker, 9-5 in nine ends, set the stage for the B final against familiar foes on the Smart rink.
"All eight players on the ice are from ACAC so we actually all played together or against each other for a couple of years in our ACAC careers so that was kind of cool," Flory said.
A steal of two in four put Flory on top 4-2 and in the next end Smart replied with a three spot.
Flory scored one in six and in seven stole a point to lead 6-5.
The teams traded deuces before Smart tied it at eight in 10.
"We were both on the conservative side, just kind of waiting to make our move," Flory said. "We weren't nervous until probably the 10th end when we were only up one without hammer. Forcing to one is always challenging so we were doing our best to make sure that we could come out of the end with at least a force if not a steal."
The Bellerose Composite High School alumna didn't have to throw her last rock in the extra end after Smart was short with a draw facing two counters, one in full eight and the other was a biter.
The result was a marked improvement from the 2016 northerns in St. Albert when Flory's crew of Nanninga, Lewko and Katie Roskewich lost the A and B finals en route to a 3-3 record in the six-team draw.
"Last year losing the A final (11-7 in nine ends to Kaufman) was tough for us and then when we lost the B final (11-8 as Jessie Kaufman of the Avonair counted four in 10) mentally and emotionally we kind of shut down. It was really hard to rally back from that in C," Flory said. "This year just having another season under our belts and just being able to learn that much more about the game and to be more calm under pressure really helped. We had made provincials before but it just seemed like this time we were able to kind of meld and we were all able to come together and make our shots and see the outcome."
The following teams will join Flory at provincials.
Team Sweeting of Edmonton (2015/16 highest-ranked Alberta rink in the Canadian Team Ranking System): skip Val Sweeting, Paul Kane High school teacher Lori Olson-Johns at third, second Dana Ferguson, lead Rachelle Brown.
Team Scheidegger of Lethbridge (top CTRS point leader as of Dec. 1): skip Casey Scheidegger, third Cary-Anne McTaggart, second Jessie Scheidegger, lead Stephanie Enright.
Team Chyz of Calgary (CTRS point leader for Alberta Tour events): skip Nadine Chyz, third Heather Jensen, second Whitney Eckstrand, lead Heather Rogers.
Team Kleibrink of Okotoks (second highest CTRS point leader for Alberta Tour events): skip Shannon Kleibrink, third Lisa Eyamie, second Sarah Wilkies, lead Alison Kotylak.
Team DeJong of Grande Prairie (Peace Curling Association A qualifier): skip Delia DeJong, third Teryn Hamilton, second Amy Janko, lead Morgan Watchorn.
Team James of Fairview (Peace Curling Association B qualifier): skip Trisha James, third Michelle Gnam, second Raeleigh Milner, lead Chelsey Whitney.
Team Baird of the Saville (northern A qualifier): skip Holly Baird, third Pam Appleman, second Leslie Rogers, lead Chana Martineau.
Team Scott of the Saville (northern C qualifier): skip Holly Scott, third Megan Anderson, second Tara Lamoureux, lead Trina Ball.
The Southern Alberta Curling Association playdowns were held last weekend in Airdrie and the three qualifiers were unavailable at press time.
Two years ago, Flory's NAIT team of Nanninga, Amanda Moizis and Roskewch qualified out of the B event at northerns and at provincials in Lacombe lost three straight.
"We definitely think we can improve our record. As far as the competition goes it's a pretty stacked provincials but we're looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun. It will be tough ride for sure but we're really looking forward to the opportunity to play," Flory said. "None of us are really going into it nervous, we're going in saying OK what can we learn and what can we come out of it with. We want to keep all the games close and see what happens."