Team Ontario members at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts 2016, Grand Prairie Alberta (from top left to right), Pascale Letendre alternate, Bob Hanna coach. (from bottom left to right) Jenn Hanna skip, Brit O’Neill third, Stephanie Hanna second and Karen Sagle lead. Photo courtesy of Pascale Letendre.
An unexpected successful season for the Ottawa Curling Club’s Jenn Hanna and her team ended on the national stage this past week.
Hanna (skip) and her team comprising of her younger sister Stephanie (second), Karen Sagle (lead), Brit O’Neill (third), and alternate Pascale Letendre competed as Team Ontario at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts held in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
In just their first year playing together, Team Hanna placed 5th overall on Friday, just shy of securing a playoff spot.
O’Neill says they are not at all disappointed with the results. “The experience itself was incredible. This is the dream; this is why I’ve curled my whole life to get to the big show here. It’s just unbelievably amazing to experience it and to represent your province.”
“Coming into this week, we’re a new team, we’re a rookie team,” explained O’Neill. “A lot of the teams here, it’s almost (as if) they curl as a profession. They’re on the tour, they’re traveling all season (with) lots of sponsorship and opportunity and time to train.”
O’Neill is a full time dental hygienist student at Algonquin College, Sagle works full time, and the Hanna sisters are both moms with young kids. With these factors in mind, the team decided to set realistic goals for the Scotties Tournament. The team decided to shoot for more wins than losses, and believed that it might sneak them into a playoff spot. The team turned the goal into a reality, ending the week with a 6-5 record.
This was O’Neill and Sagle’s first time competing at the Scotties, but for skip Hanna (36) and her sister (33), this was familiar territory. The sisters had last been at the Scotties in 2005 with a different group of women, where their team lost in the finals. They came back this year to competitive curling after a three-year hiatus to compete with O’Neill (29) and Sagle (29).
It was a surprising win earlier this year at provincials where they beat two-time Canada champion Rachel Homan and her team, winning them a spot representing Ontario at nationals.
Homan, also from the Ottawa Curling Club and 2013 national champion, was a favourite to win and represent Ontario at the Scotties. It was a surprise to many when Hanna and her team took the game.
“To come out of that game it just put our names on the map. It woke a few people up, and woke us up too, realizing what we’re capable of as a team,” says O’Neill.
The team’s unique dynamic is one reason for their quick success according to O’Neill. The Hanna sisters function as a strong duo, and O’Neill and Sagle have been dating for four years.
“Some people would think that would be detrimental but it absolutely wasn’t, not one bit,” declared O’Neill, “(The Hanna’s) are very comfortable with each other, obviously, and (Sagle) and I are (as well). You can say things you just might not be able to say to strangers.”
She says it was partially their unique dynamic what made them comfortable as a team much quicker than usual.
Another unique factor about Team Hanna is that all of their team members live in Ottawa.
According to O’Neill, most of the time players are from across the province. Having all their members in the same city makes it easier to practice and play together.
It just may have been that comfort level that helped them achieve their goal this past week. While they fell just short of playoffs, they were able to boast significant wins against Team Alberta and Team Northern Ontario, who respectively placed first and second.
Team Alberta started off the tournament with six straight wins and was undefeated until they faced Team Hanna, winning that match 7-5. Alberta, led by skip Chelsea Carey, only lost two games the entire week and finished overall champions with a record of 9-2.
Team Hanna also beat Team Northern Ontario 6-4. Northern Ontario later went on to play defending national champions led by Jennifer Jones, winning 7-5 and beating Team Canada out of a spot in the championship match.
O’Neill says that her team is very happy with how they played even if things could have gone a bit better. “There are some games that we let go that we should have won. One in particular that would have got us in for sure, so it’s disappointing knowing it’s just right there. (However) I’m not at all disappointed with how the week went.”
After a long week, the Ottawa curlers flew home from Alberta Sunday morning. Though O’Neill says they haven’t talked about the future yet, she sees good things ahead.
“The season obviously went very well, it’s not very often that a first year team goes to a national championship. So there are obviously great things to build on.”