Jennifer Jones honors late father, coach at Olympic Athlete Village’s ‘Memory Tree’

Canada's Jennifer Jones reacts during the women's round robin session. CURLING-OLY-2022-BEIJING-CAN-JPN
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Canadian women’s curling skip Jennifer Jones found herself having a poignant moment ahead of her triumphant return to the Winter Olympics. It has been eight years since Jones went a perfect 13-0 to win gold at Sochi and to be back at a second Games was milestone moment.

But as she made her way to Beijing’s Ice Cube for Canada’s first round-robin matchup vs. reigning bronze medalists South Korea, Jones made a stop in the Olympic Athlete Village to spend a moment at the “Memory Tree” to honor her late father, Larry Jones, and late coach from 2014, Jane Arnott.

“When I saw the tree, I had a little tear,” Jones told media about the metal sculpture that marks the Place of Mourning, a spot where athletes are encouraged to write messages on white ribbons and tie them on the tree. The “tree” is situated on a dedicated plaza that serves “as a place of reflection, [where] athletes and everyone in the Olympic Village can honor the memory of deceased loved ones.”

In 2018, Jones not only missed out on making the Olympics, but she also looked on from the stands as husband Brent Laing played for Canada.

“It was hard to not be on the ice,” she said.

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS COVERAGE: In alpine skiing, women compete, but that’s about it

Making her Olympic return in Beijing, Jones helped Canada win its first game against 2018 bronze medalist South Korea, 12-7. But she found it bittersweet to be there without her father, who was at every major event until his passing in May 2019, and Arnott, who was the coach of Team Jones in Sochi and passed away from cancer just months after Jones’ father.

“I actually said some words to my dad,” she said through tears after Canada’s second round-robin match (an 8-5 loss to Japan). “I just remember him watching me in Sochi. He would meet all the volunteers so they would save him the best seats behind our sheet.”

Dad was her coach when she won her first Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2005, earning her place in curling history with an game-winning shot in the final that’s simply referred to as “The Shot.” He also coached the team at the world championship in Scotland that year.

Jones has won five more national championships since then, along with two world titles, two Canadian Olympic trials and an Olympic gold when she became the first – and so far, she remains the only – female skip to go undefeated through an Olympic Games. And her father was there for all of it.

“I just feel his presence and I know he is with me,” she said, tearing up again before speaking about Arnott.

“I know she’d be so proud of us because we’re smiling, we’re having fun, we’re enjoying the moment, and nobody can ever take that away from us.”

At 47 years old and mother to daughters Isabella and Skyla Carol, Jones becomes Canada’s oldest woman Olympian in any sport by competing in Beijing. But first she’s keen to “soak in the moment” with teammates Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman and Dawn McEwen, with whom she could become the oldest woman to win a Winter Olympics medal in any sport from any nation.

“We formed (the team) based on having brave human beings as teammates,” she explained. “Then the chemistry is easy if you respect each other and you really admire each other as people.”

As for her competitive drive, it burns bright as ever.

“I still feel really young, so I think that’s a great thing,” said Jones. “I definitely have experience. I feel like I’m playing better than I’ve ever played.”

But no matter the result in Beijing, Jones is keeping things in perspective. “We’re gonna enjoy these Olympics regardless of the outcome, and that was the biggest thing that Janet [Arnott] taught us,” she said.

When it comes to Larry Jones, he left his daughter with a legacy that intersects at the heart of her competitive success.

“I just love playing,” she said. “I love the feeling of being on the ice, and that’s all because of my dad.”

MORE OLYMPIC CURLING: Complete women’s schedule, rosters, how to watch

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi and the NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report.

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.