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Underdog role suits Mattatall just fine

Go ahead and underestimate Mary Mattatall at the Canadian women's curling championship. It will be nothing new for her.
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Go ahead and underestimate Mary Mattatall at the Canadian women's curling championship. It will be nothing new for her.

Halifax's Mattatall and her team of Marg Cutcliffe, Andrea Saulnier and Jill Alcoe-Holland are in St. Catharines, Ont., to begin play Saturday in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

It is the sixth trip for Mattatall and the first in a dozen years. It is the third for Cutcliffe, who went with Virginia Jackson in 1985 and 1987. Alcoe-Holland and Saulnier are rookies after lifetimes in the game.

They will be significantly older than their competition. They will be perceived as less of a threat because of it, and they are well aware of it.

They are a senior women's team and the Nova Scotia senior champions, who tore through the field to win the Nova Scotia women's championship last month at the Mayflower Curling Club, only losing a single game.

Cutcliffe, at 61, played in the Canadian masters final for players age 60 and over last season, never imagining a chance to play for the Canadian title against women half her age this season.

"We were just tuning up," Mattatall said this week. "And we got on a roll."

Alcoe-Holland and Saulnier are from the Annapolis Valley and Mattatall and Cutcliffe are from metro. Their partnership showed promise last year with some winning results in local cashspiels.

"We came in this year with a level of expectation," said Mattatall. "We've beaten all of the local teams we needed to beat."

Mattatall went to her first Scotties in 1989 with Colleen Jones. She also went with Jones in 1991 and 1992. She skipped a team to a championship in 1998 and was the third for Kay Zinck in 2005.

Eight years ago, she tore her ACL in a skiing accident and required surgery. It's only been in the last few years that her curling game returned to form.

The team was having mixed success this season and was in peril of missing out on qualifying for provincials. Down to their last life at the qualifier in Windsor, they debated making Cutcliffe skip and moving Mattatall to another position.

In the end, Cutcliffe went from lead to third and Saulnier began throwing lead rocks.

"The magic started happening. The front end are awesome sweepers. They are both really fit and great athletes."

Confidence has been a big part of the team's run. They are 11-1 counting the Scotties and senior wins.

"I'm really confident in my delivery this year and I'm confident in strategy," said Mattatall, who leans on Cutcliffe for her experience in key situations. "My whole demeanour has changed over the last little while.

"Honestly, we never thought we'd get to the Scotties. We were trying every year, but I was turning my focus more to coaching. I'd had a couple elite junior teams. But coaching them, and helping in their evolution, helped my own evolution. I was better able to stay in the moment."

It's been more than a lucky stretch, or weak opposition.

"My ability to focus and my ability to inspire the team, to remind them what could be possible, allowed us to strive for higher goals than at the start of the season," said Mattatall. "And we've been able to achieve them. It's been a remarkable journey. I can tell you that we've earned the wins.

"As a team, we feed off each other. We get strength from each other. We have fun together. There's levity out there. It's not all serious. We will relish this like we may never get back. It's just proof that if you have a dream and you still work toward a goal that it's possible."

Their age may not be a factor, but they will be asked about it all week.

Eleven games in the round robin means two games per day just about every day for the week. Those are 10-end games, too.

"We know it will be gruelling," Mattatall said. "We know we have to rest between games. We have to manage that. There won't be any partying."

Julie McEvoy joins the team as the alternate with Bruce Lohnes the coach. Lohnes will also coach the Nova Scotia men's team skipped by Jamie Murphy at next month's Brier.

Chelsea Carey is back to skip Team Canada this week. Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink, Manitoba's Michelle Englot, Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville and Ontario's Rachel Homan will be among the other top contenders.

Mattatall's team opens play in the first draw on Saturday afternoon against B.C.'s Marla Mallett.

"We're saying what else can be possible for us," Mattatall said of pulling an upset in Ontario. "The greatest crime is to set your bar too low and achieve it."



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