Reigning World Junior Championship winning skip Fay Henderson has demonstrated that she has fully graduated to the senior ranks with a comprehensive victory over the defending champions in the final of the Hendricks Gin Scottish Curling Championship at the Dumfries Ice Bowl.
Playing at the venue in which she grew up, the 22-year-old from Dumfries, along with current Olympic champion Hailey Duff, Amy MacDonald and Katie McMillan have formed a new team this season and were the outstanding women's quartet at the championships.
They finished top of the round-robin section of the event with nine wins in 10 matches, suffering their only defeat in the second of their meetings with defending champions Team Morrison and they then beat the title holders of the previous two seasons again in the one v two play-off match.
Rebecca Morrison, Duff's Beijing Olympic winning teammate Jen Dodds, Sophie Sinclair and Sophie Jackson then came through their semi-final to claim their expected place in the final, but going into the match with last stone advantage as top qualifiers, Henderson's women took control of the championship match from the outset.
They made a near perfect start, blanking the opening end before applying pressure in the second where Morrison’s takeout with her last stone rolled a fraction too far, leaving Henderson with a straightforward draw for a 3-0 lead and the added bonus of having scored on the even end.
Morrison then used her guards well to set up an opportunity to reduce the leeway, but her last stone ran through the house which meant she was forced to settle for one.
Henderson had a chance to blank the end, only for a nose hit with her final takeout to result in her being forced in turn, but at a messy fifth end Morrison was left with a tricky draw to two counting Henderson stones at the back of the four foot and was slightly wide, so out-counted just one of them to give away the steal and fall 5-1 behind at the midway break.
When play resumed Morrison was again in trouble when Henderson’s takeout meant she was facing four counting opposition shots with no direct route to the button as she played her first.
She removed two, but left Henderson a double takeout, which left Morrison with a high pressure shot drawing to the button just to score which she made to stay in the game at 5-2 down.
The seventh end then built up in a way that could have been slightly dangerous for Henderson until Duff’s clear out opened up the button and removed both Morrison stones from the head.
The only remaining stones in the rings were Henderson’s as Morrison's coach Ross Paterson was called onto the ice for a timeout ahead of skip stones.
Morrison’s subsequent attempted freeze came up short, leaving Henderson a takeout to count three and Morrison was left with a very difficult freeze attempt to stay in the game.
She got the line right but bumped the shot stone slightly to leave Henderson with the chance to make the takeout for the three that effectively wrapped up the win at 8-2.
They were still taking nothing for granted as demonstrated when they called coach Eve Muirhead, skip of that Olympic title winning team onto the ice for a timeout at the next with six stones still to be played.
A slight mistake by Henderson with an attempted takeout then gave Rebecca a chance for a double that would have left her lying three, but she was make it and Fay’s takeout was the coup de grace, Morrison failing with her attempt at a raise takeout before hands were shaken with the score at 9-2.
"It sounds amazing to be able to say we're Scottish champions and hopefully it'll be the first of many," said Henderson.
"We played really good shots out there, played a lot of them and after getting the three early on which definitely helped, we just controlled the scoreboard and made a few clinical shots out there which ultimately won it for us."
She said they had gone into the win believing they had the capacity to lift the title.
"We definitely found our form this week and knew we could win," said Henderson.
"We'd managed to beat Becca once in the round-robin and while we had one loss to her as well we were alright with that because we didn't really want to be all the way undefeated, because sometimes that doesn't work out in your favour.
"We then managed to play a really, really good game in the one v two match and being two-one up on them in the three matches we'd played this week, the only times we've played one another this season, was a strong point for us, so we knew we could get it across the line."
She believes that a combination of personnel and experience has allowed them to gel quickly as a team, with the addition of the vastly knowledgeable Muirhead in mid-season having been the final piece in the jigsaw.
"We've got a very good combination and get on very well dynamically, which certainly helps," said Henderson.
"Mine and Hailey's experience puts us in good situations when we're under pressure.
"It's great for finals just to keep the team calm and collected.
"Katie and I were also in the Scottish final two years ago, so I think the experience we've all got with finals, exposure to big events and playing in front of a crowd which can be difficult at times, managed to help us keep cool..
"Having Eve on the bench is great, too.
"There's not many people with more curling experience than her, so she knows exactly what to do and comes with a clear plan with every chat, which means we have a clear head and know what to do.
"There's nobody better out there that British Curling could have brought in as a coach.
"It's great that she's agreed to do it and her support is very much appreciated.
"She's talked about key shots we might have to make under pressure and we've practiced them in training, which has definitely helped.
"All season we've been running just short of where we need to be, just a couple of per cent out and this week we've managed to find that."
Having demonstrated their capacity to perform on the big occasion, they must now wait to find out whether they will be invited to represent Scotland at this year's World Championships, which provide the first opportunity to pick up qualifying points for Team GB ahead of the Winter Olympics in Milan/Cortina in 2026
"This week we proved that we are a strong team out there and played very well," said Henderson.
"Obviously having the World Junior winning experience helps as well, but it's not quite the same as the Worlds, so it's in the hands of the selectors now.
"We've done everything we can, so we'll just wait for the decision to be made, but it would be lovely to get to another Worlds, especially this season.”
For Team Morrison it will be a similarly anxious wait and while they remain hopeful that the performances that have taken them to number 13 in the world rankings will be sufficient, their skip was gracious in her acknowledgement that they had been out-played at this championship.
“We struggled to find our groove this week, just not getting into the flow of things, so that was a tough loss but you know Team Henderson played a fantastic game out there today and they really deserved that win," said Morrison.
“We now wait on the world selections to find out what might be next.
"We have put together some good performances this season so far, so we are still hopeful that is on the cards for us, but we will have to wait and see in the coming weeks what that looks like."
With three Scottish girls among the teenagers who won gold medals for Team GB in both curling events at the recent Winter Youth Olympics in Korea, the two-time champion skip also welcomed the growing health of the domestic game, while congratulating the organisers on an event worthy of the world class field.
“It is great to see that there is so much talent in Scotland and you have seen it on the men’s side as well," said Morrison.
"With two new title holders this week, it is brilliant to see the women’s game growing and that can only mean good things for the future of curling in Scotland.
“This week the arena has been absolutely stunning and the rings look amazing.
"Scottish Curling have done brilliantly, as has the artist that has been in for this week to design the rings.
"I have just never seen anything quite like this and it has been amazing for all the players this week.”.
Action Images: Scottish Curling, trophy pic: Team Henderson