By Kevin Mitchell – The StarPhoenix

That could have been Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton wearing Team Canada gear at the 2006 Olympics — could have been, if a rock or two had rolled with her instead of against her at the trials.

Lawton, now 29, heads into this year’s Canadian Olympic curling trials with memories of a third-place showing in 2005 still fresh. Her rink lost a nail-biting 5-4 decision to eventual Olympian Shannon Kleibrink of Calgary in the event semifinal.

“We were in awe of everything,” recalls Lawton, who opens the trials –dubbed the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings — Sunday in Edmonton against Kelly Scott of Kelowna, B.C. “We definitely knew we were capable, but we didn’t know what everything was all about. Now, we know we were so close last time, but we also know that just because we got third doesn’t mean we can do that well or better than that. It’s a different competition. At the same time, we know what you need to do to win the competition.”

Lawton has enjoyed plenty of high-flying curling aside from the trials. She skipped Saskatchewan at the 2005 and 2009 Scotties national championship. She earned her way to this year’s trials without having to attend last month’s pre-qualifier.

Lawton, with sister Marliese Kasner at third, Sherri Singler at second and Lana Vey at lead, is seeded fourth for the trials, behind Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones, Kleibrink and Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard. The eight-team field also includes fifth-seed Crystal Webster of Calgary, along with Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., Scott, and Kronau’s Amber Holland.

Lawton and Holland skip the two Saskatchewan women’s teams at the trials. Moose Jaw’s Pat Simmons is in the men’s event.

Lawton, a chartered accountant with Meyers Norris Penny, credits a lengthy work leave with helping her prepare for another shot at the Olympics. She has been off the job for more than a year while getting ready.

“They gave me a leave to go ahead, work hard on the training and go for my dream of curling here and working towards the Olympics,” says Lawton, who is 13th in World Curling Tour earnings this season with $15,000. “I’m grateful for that and it’s made a big difference in my life, in terms of being able to spend more time at the rink and more time with off-ice training and mentally preparing myself.”

Vey is the only player on the team who didn’t play with Lawton at the 2005 trials. Chelsey Bell, the lead on the 2005 squad, now plays lead with Kleibrink.

Despite the excitement of preparing for the trials, the year has been a tragic one for Lawton and sister Kasner. They’re dealing with the grief of losing mother Linda Miller to a brain tumour in late September, following a 10-month battle.

Their mother was a staunch and proud supporter as the girls grew up and Lawton says she’ll carry Linda’s memory into Edmonton.

“My mom has been with me through all my curling, through every part of my life, and I know she wouldn’t miss this,” Lawton says. “I know she’s going to be there watching.”

Holland is third in women’s WCT earnings with $26,200 and Simmons is ninth on the men’s circuit with $29,500.

Holland opens Sunday against top-seed Jennifer Jones, while Simmons takes on Edmonton’s Kevin Koe.

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