Calgary's Cheryl Bernard will be at the Prestige Hotel/Twin Anchors Curling Classic

Calgary's Cheryl Bernard will be at the Prestige Hotel/Twin Anchors Curling Classic

Cashspiel draws leading ladies

World-calibre women's rinks descend on Vernon Curling Club for Prestige Hotel/Twin Anchors Curling Classic.

Former world champion Bingyu (Betty) Wang of China will be here on a high after claiming the Cloverdale Cashspiel last weekend.

Defending champion Shannon Kleibrink of Calgary is returning after having Amy Nixon sub for her due to surgery. Current world champ Mirjam Ott of Switzerland, ex-world winner Kelly Scott of Kelowna and several Olympians have also entered.

Play in the women’s draw of the $35,000 Prestige Hotel/Twin Anchors Houseboats Curling Classic opens Thursday night at the Vernon Curling Club. There will be 32 women’s rinks, up from 24, in a triple-knockout affair.

First place is worth $7,500 and also on the line are World Curling Tour points, leading to the Founders Trophy.

Cashspiels in Brockville, Ont. and Edmonton have already been held and there’s one in Norway this weekend. For the majority of rinks coming to Vernon, the Twin Anchors jumpstarts their cashspiel season.

“We have an astounding interest in the ladies cashspiel, our biggest ever,” said curling club manager Dave Merklinger, a world-class icemaker. “They like the competition and the purse. Fans are in for a real treat.”

Vernon fans will remember Wang as the darling of the 2008 Ford World Championships at Wesbild Centre. She defeated Canada’s Jennifer Jones in the round-robin and the 1-2 playoff before losing to Jones in a thrilling final.

Wang, 27, earned the first-ever medal for a Chinese or Pacific team, of either gender, and went on to strike world gold the next year in her home town of Harbin and then take bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard, a 2010 Olympic silver medalist and four-time Alberta champion, will bring her new Dairy Queen-sponsored rink.

Cathy Overton-Clapham, a former third with Jones, now has her own rink. Overton-Clapham topped the women’s money list last year with $52,422.

Olympians Liudmilla Privivkova of Russia and Ott also finished in the top-10 last year, and are among the favourites to qualify in the Vernon cashspiel.

“Mirjam Ott has agreed to help out with an intermediate clinic we’re holding Wednesday night so that’s a real nice bonus,” said Merklinger.

Amber Holland of Regina is bringing a new team consisting of longtime alternate Jolene Campbell at third, Brooklyn Lemon at second, and Dailene Sivertson, who previously played for Kelly Scott, at lead.

Former B.C. champions Allison MacInnes of Kamloops, and Marla Mallett of New Westminster, Lisa Eyamie of Calgary, Patti Knezevic of Prince George, Valerie Sweeting of Edmonton and Lisa Stephenson of Kelowna are also confirmed.

There is a men’s field of 16, including Brent Pierce of New Westminster, who lost the 2011 final to Rob Schlender of Edmonton. Pierce brushed back clubmate Sean Geall in the Cloverdale cashspiel final last weekend.

Pierce, backed by Kelowna third Jeff Richard (skip’s stones), second Kevin Recksiedler and lead Grant Dezura, earned $6,000 last year.

Vernon’s Jim Cotter, who collected $4,500 for making the semis, and TJ Perepolkin of Vernon, who pocketed $3,500 for reaching the quarters, are also back in the cashspiel.

Cotter has won the last two provincial men’s titles, finishing out of the playoffs at both Tim Hortons Briers.

Merklinger hopes to find a 16th rink so he doesn’t have to play. Any foursome interested may call him at 250-307-7451.

Five-day passes for the curling classic are $30, with single-day tickets worth $10, and are available at the club. The women’s final goes next Sunday at 3 p.m., while the men’s final is Monday at 3 p.m.

There will be a Saturday night social featuring music from The Goods.