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Rachel Homan wins record-extending 11th GSOC title at Champions Cup

Rachel Homan completed an unreal tournament run capturing her record-extending 11th Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s title.

Just three weeks after giving birth to daughter Bowyn, Homan was back in action and skipped her Ottawa-based club to the Humpty’s Champions Cup women’s title defeating Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland 6-3 in Monday’s final at Calgary’s WinSport Arena.

The team of Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Sarah Wilkes, lead Joanne Courtney and alternate Laura Walker cashed in $25,000 CDN from the $105,000 purse. It’s also the third Humpty’s Champions Cup title for Homan, who won the event back-to-back in 2017 and 2018. Coincidentally, or maybe not, both of those victories came in that same building.

“It feels incredible,” Homan said. “I’m really proud of my team for playing so well all week. Coming off this kind of year where we couldn’t practise basically between the Scotties and the Slams, it’s definitely an incredible feeling to be able to pull off a win and playing so well as well.”

“It definitely looks different with nobody in the stands, just a couple of curlers, but same arena and same venue,” she added. “I’m really happy we were able to win.”

Homan was eight months pregnant when she earned silver at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in February. Miskew was scheduled to take over as interim skip and Walker, who skipped Alberta to bronze in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, came on board to fill in at third. Homan was a game-time decision and plans changed in an instant, but she never missed a beat.

Team Homan (6-1) won six straight games with their lone loss at the start of the week in Thursday’s opening draw against Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man. It just came down to the final shot of the game and Einarson made her signature runback double takeout to score four points and win 6-3. Team Homan finished pool play with a 3-1 record, defeated Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa 5-4 in the quarterfinals and avenged the loss to Einarson with a 5-3 victory in the semifinals.

The team of Tirinzoni, fourth Alina Pätz, second Esther Neuenschwander and lead Melanie Barbezat also went 3-1 in their group, edged Russia’s Team Alina Kovaleva 8-7 in an extra end during the quarterfinals and eliminated Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man., 7-4 in the semifinals. They received $17,000 as runners-up.

Tirinzoni, who throws third and skips, entered the Humpty’s Champions Cup as the defending champion. Last year’s event was cancelled and the start of this season was postponed to April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final was a thrilling game before the game even started. Homan and Pätz covered the pinhole during their draw to the button shootout for hammer. The two threw again with no sweepers, Pätz rolled a little deep and Homan’s rock stopped at the back of the four-foot circle to secure last-rock advantage.

“We both pinned it and the draw without sweepers was both close,” Homan said. “We knew it was going to be a good game from the get-go.”  

Homan was unable to convert in the first as she looked to tap her own rock and score two, however, Tirinzoni’s rock in the eight-foot circle just barely outcounted Homan’s shooter on a close measure.

After Pätz hit and stuck for a single in two, Homan drew for a deuce in three and a 3-1 lead. The force was strong with the teams alternating singles back and forth through the fourth and fifth ends then again in six and seven as Homan led by two without the hammer coming home. Pätz had to make a challenging double raise and then a double takeout to force an extra end, but was unable to pull it off and Homan added a single steal.

“Tirinzoni made a ton of shots and they played so well against us,” Homan said. “We needed to play our A-game, we couldn’t just go through the motions to win that game, so it was a real team effort to win that one.” 

Homan became the first women’s skip to reach double-digit title wins when she took the Meridian Canadian Open in January 2019 — oddly enough beating Team Tirinzoni in that final as well — and broke a tie for first place with Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones.

Things didn’t go to plan in the series at all for her team last season as they missed the playoffs in all four events. The team parted ways with longtime lead Lisa Weagle and Courtney moved down a spot in the lineup to accommodate the arrival of Wilkes.

“I think just the work that we put in early on and then believing in the work that we had put in is really all you could do to be able to keep going and take it game by game,” Homan said.

While it is Wilkes’ first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s title as an official member of Team Homan, she subbed at second during the 2017 Humpty’s Champions Cup run as Courtney was off capturing silver for Canada with Reid Carruthers in the world mixed doubles championship.

Earlier Monday, Team Bruce Mouat of Scotland topped Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher 6-3 to claim the Humpty’s Champions Cup men’s title.

It was a rare Championship Monday as the start of the Humpty’s Champions Cup was pushed back from Wednesday to Thursday when the world men’s curling championship paused play during the playoffs due to four positive COVID-19 tests. After the results were determined false positives, the men’s worlds resumed and wrapped up late last Sunday.

“I think everyone is a little bit more refreshed because we weren’t able to play as much and weren’t able to practise as much,” Homan said. “I think everyone is playing really well. The games have been really close. Even watching Brendan and Mouat battle it out there, it was a great game. I think everybody wants to win.

“There are such few games and we’re so grateful that Sportsnet is able to continue to this bubble even with a little bit of a scare early in the week. Everyone is so happy to be curling, so I think everybody is bringing their A-game right now.” 

There’s no rest for the world’s best as the Princess Auto Players’ Championship begins Tuesday afternoon and runs through to Sunday to wrap up the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season. Broadcast coverage begins Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET / Noon local time on Sportsnet.

The Princess Auto Players’ Championship is the last on the list for Homan, who has finished runner-up twice in the event. No women’s skip has won all six event titles in the series and only Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., has accomplished the feat on the men’s side.

“It would be awesome to get more games in as a team and to get to another final would be phenomenal,” Homan said. “We haven’t won it yet, so it’s definitely a goal of ours. It would be a great end to this season together as a team. We don’t know what we’re walking into next year, so that would mean a lot to us, absolutely.”