After a week of uncertainty, Selena Njegovan confirms she’ll be on site at Scotties

After almost a week of uncertainty about event accessibility due to her pregnancy leave, Team Lawes vice Selena Njegovan has confirmed she plans to attend the Canadian women’s curling championship.

Both Curling Canada and Njegovan said they have cleared things up after a miscommunication led to confusion about her role at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts while on leave.

Njegovan was told last week that she wouldn’t have the same access as other athletes at the Feb. 17-26 event. The organization later clarified things with the team and granted her the access she desired as a non-playing alternate.

“I was really excited and we’re happy that Curling Canada had changed their minds,” Njegovan said. “It seemed like there was miscommunication around all that.

“Once we sat down and chatted, I got the OK to be on the bench.”

Many teams use an alternate — also called a fifth — at national playdowns and other top events. Traditionally the alternate sees occasional game action and is generally focused on team support duties.

A “non-playing” alternate was a new consideration for Curling Canada at its 18-team competition. The only limitation for Njegovan is she won’t be allowed to step on the ice at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, B.C.

“I think the confusion was this was a brand new situation,” she told The Canadian Press from Winnipeg. “They’ve never ever had something like this before.”

Curling Canada’s Nolan Thiessen said when an athlete is on the ice at a Scotties game or practice, that would be considered an alternate’s duties. Njegovan, who’s due in late March, is ineligible for that while on leave.

However, Njegovan will be allowed to sit at the end of the sheet with coach Lisa Weagle, assist players during timeouts and help during practice sessions from the carpeted area at ice level.

When initially told she’d have limited in-venue access, she considered staying home and supporting her teammates remotely via online meetings.

Access clarification came via a team call with Thiessen on Sunday night. He confirmed the changes a couple days later when reached in Edmonton by The Canadian Press.

“I’m definitely going now,” said Njegovan, who has clearance from her doctor to travel. “I’m planning to be there the whole time, as long as the girls are playing.”

Lawes earned the first wild-card berth at the Scotties thanks to her Winnipeg-based team’s No. 4 ranking in Canada. Edmonton’s Laura Walker will replace Njegovan in the lineup.

The team had to apply for a pregnancy exemption to allow an out-of-province player to fill in at the competition.

Curling Canada initially limited applications to just the top-five teams in the domestic rankings. After much outcry, including criticism from some high-profile curlers, the organization walked back the policy on two occasions.

The first adjustment allowed all teams to apply for the exemption at the 2024 nationals. Another change followed a day later that allowed all teams at this year’s championships to apply.

“This (past) week hasn’t been great with just how everything rolled out,” said Thiessen, the organization’s executive director of marketing and fan experience.

“I think everything was done with a lot of these things with the best of intentions but it clearly wasn’t delivered properly … we at Curling Canada have readily said that we didn’t succeed here. So we want to improve and we always do.”

Njegovan said she views the developments over the last week as a positive.

“I don’t want to blame Curling Canada at all since this was a new situation and there were a lot of moving parts,” she said. “They went back and rectified everything and made sure everything was right going forward. I really appreciate that.

“I do think it’s a step forward and it does sound like people are really happy that these changes have been made.”

Njegovan, Lawes, second Jocelyn Peterman, lead Kristin MacCuish reached the semifinals of the Manitoba playdowns but fell to Meghan Walter, who lost to Jennifer Jones in the final.

Walter and Casey Scheidegger joined Lawes as the wild-card entries at the Scotties.

“You never know when you’re going to get back there so you always want to be involved any way you can,” Njegovan said. “We’ve had such a wild year with a few pregnancies and different players coming in and out.

“We’ve just worked really hard and I just wanted to be and feel part of the team and be there.”

After several days of off-ice storylines, the focus can finally shift to curling as the Scotties returns to normal after limited attendance and COVID-19 protocols were in place the last two years.

Lawes is one of the headliners in a deep field that includes Jones, Ontario’s Rachel Homan and defending champion Kerri Einarson.

“I think (our) team is capable of winning the whole thing,” Njegovan said. “We’ve worked really hard this year. Even though we’ve had different players playing different positions, it just shows our resilience throughout the year.

“To have that success with changing situations, I would say is pretty impressive. So I’m super excited to see how the girls do and we’ll just see what happens.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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