By: Monty Mosher
Sometimes it can be the briefest of encounters that can change a destiny. That is true for Dalhousie’s Kaitlyn Jones.
Jones, skipping Team Saskatchewan at the Canadian junior women’s curling championships in Victoria in 2017, hadn’t made any plans for university when she came in contact with Team Nova Scotia coach Andrew Atherton.
Atherton, the long-time coach of the perennial provincial champion Mary Fay team, a team that won the world junior championship in 2016, had a need for a seasoned skip. Might Jones be interested in filling the role?
“This was just after everything was finished,” said the second-year psychology student. “He was standing next to me and he asked me what my plans were for the next year. And I thought he meant school-wise and I said I wasn’t sure. He said that if I ever decided to come to Nova Scotia he would love to have me on their team. That’s about as quick as the conversation was. He left and I left.
“But, after that conversation, I was already dead set on moving to Nova Scotia.”
Moving not an issue
Jones had much to consider, but leaving home wasn’t one of her issues.
The daughter of an RCMP officer, she had been raised in B.C. and began her curling life there. She’d been in Ontario and Saskatchewan, among other stops, and starting anew was something that had been a fact of life.
“I hadn’t thought of what I was going to do, and when he made that offer I was going to take it 100 per cent. I knew that would be the best opportunity for me to play with people who had already won a world championship. That excited me.”
She was excited more than nervous.
“I knew I was going into their team to skip and I knew that two of them had already won a world championship,” she said. “But I didn’t think of it that I was going in to skip a team that had won a world championship, I thought of it as an opportunity for myself to play with some of the best in the curling scene. I never once felt nerves.
“I knew I was good enough to play with them, so I never felt any pressure to be Mary Fay because I knew I could make a name for myself and that’s exactly what I did.”
Golden first year in Nova Scotia
Her arrival couldn’t have gone much better. Jones, Kristin Clarke, Karlee Burgess and Lindsey Burgess won the 2018 world championship in Scotland, defeating Sweden in the gold-medal game.
They were hungry to defend the championship in 2019 with the world championship in Liverpool. N.S. But after winning the provincial title, they were unable to win the Canadian championship.
For Jones, turning 21 in March, it was her last year in the age group.
The silver lining turned out to be golden. Jones, Burgess, Clarke and Lauren Lenentine, the alternate on the 2018 world championship team, teamed up to win the AUS women’s curling title, posting an undefeated record, and will play at the nationals in March in a bid to win the first U Sports women’s curling championship for an AUS school.
Dalhousie, Mount Allison, St. F.X., Memorial, Saint Mary’s and UNB entered teams in the AUS women’s draw.
The university game languished in the shadows for years and only has emerged as a true national competition in the last decade. Teams were often underfunded and frequently hastily thrown together.
“Now that the game has grown so much we are able to get funds and we are considered a varsity sport at Dalhousie,” said Jones, who said university curling is widely recognized among the people she encounters. “And there are a lot more university teams across Canada that are wanting to compete at the nationals.”
University game growing
Some programs have progressed further than others. The U Sports championship, held in association with Curling Canada, can come with a berth in the FISU world university competition and some schools hold tryouts for positions. Alberta has emerged as a power on the women’s side.
“Dalhousie is still low key until you get to the AUS level and then you take it seriously. We treat it as a national event even if it is just playdowns because that’s when we play our best and we know we will be successful if we are at that level.”
Dalhousie coach Lori Dithurbide said Jones showed a great ability to adjust, earning academic all-Canadian in her first year of university while winning a world championship.
“I do think that her experiences in moving around with her family growing up likely made the transition more smooth,” she said. “She's been very adaptable and has been a great fit with the team. Like all student-athletes, it takes a lot of effort and time/energy management to be successful both as a student and an athlete. Kaitlyn has shown she can definitely do both.”
For Jones, getting to play with most of her junior teammates after the disappointment of losing at nationals was a bonus. So was the familiarity on the ice.
“It’s great to continue the season instead of having it be done after the junior nationals,” Jones said. “To be able to play for Dalhousie lengthens my season and it allows me to play with some of my (junior) teammates. We’re really good friends on and off the ice so it’s nice to be able to spend time with them as well.”
The nationals begin March 15 in Fredericton.
(Monty Mosher is an award-winning sportswriter in Halifax. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)