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Ontario champion Jo-Ann Rizzo makes Scotties debut as oldest “rookie” on rink

Jo-Ann Rizzo is a name that's well-known in the Ontario curling community, and she's finally making her first national Scotties appearance as an import with Team Northwest Territories

Although this is Jo-Ann Rizzo’s first appearance at a national Scotties Tournament of Hearts, making her the oldest rookie playing in this year’s draws, she is a veteran of the game in every other way that counts. 

Rizzo, 56, is playing fourth rock for Team Northwest Territories, alongside champion skip Kerry Galusha, third Sarah Kolton, and lead Shona Barbour.

Don’t let her rookie title fool you: Rizzo has an impressive resume that makes her an expert on the ice. Rizzo has played in 13 Ontario Scotties Tournament of Hearts since 2003 and competed in four Canada Cup competitions. 

She was the skip for her Ontario team at the 2016 and 2017 Canadian Senior Curling Championships, winning silver in 2017, and has competed in two Canadian Olympic Curling Trials — once in 2005 and again in 2013.

Despite her accomplished career, Rizzo had very nearly given up on her Scotties dream until she reached out to Galusha to join the northern team. 

“I played last year, just on the Ontario circuit, and that's when I thought, if this didn't pan out when I reached out to Kerry, then I think that probably would have been it for me,” said Rizzo. 

Rizzo joined the team this 2019 season, and winning the Northwest Territories Scotties Tournament of Hearts made her career’s dream a reality.

“I was just on cloud nine and I cried and everything when we won the North, because it was still tough games and we played really well and we deserved to win,” said Rizzo. “I strived for it and I didn't give up and thank god for the girls from the North that were willing to take me on the team. It's been a great experience so far.”

Rizzo joined the team originally to take up the position of second, but midway through the season, Galusha began dealing with a reoccurring injury to her leg and back. 

Now, Rizzo throws fourth rock and feels like the new structure has been working well so far.

“We just kind of put me at last rock in December, so this is our third tournament with me throwing the last rock and it's been working out,” said Rizzo. “I had a little shaky start, but I think I've got the groove now. The ice is super fast but I adjusted and I think I've got the draw weight now, and that's the key out here.”

Despite her 46 years throwing rocks and making calls, Rizzo admitted that she had some nerves coming into this championship but her experience has definitely made it easier on the team to adjust to this level of play. 

“I'm not so much a deer in headlights out here, because I've actually played in the Canada Cup here and in the whole arena environment, so I think that probably helped,” said Rizzo. “They didn't have to kind of coach me along the way and have the nervous rookie, even though maybe the first game I was nervous.” 

With eyes wide on a spot in the championship draw, both Rizzo and the remainder of the Northwest Territories team are feeling good about their showing on the rink so far.

Regardless of the nerves or lack thereof, Rizzo is enjoying her Scotties debut, especially as the sport is something close to her heart. 

“I'm just soaking it all in. Like I said, enjoying it, trying not to let the nerves get to me and enjoy the experience,” said Rizzo. “I did learn [the game] from my mom and she's gone now [so] it means a lot to me because it was a family adventure and she was my biggest fan.”

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