02/15/2013 05:44 EST | Updated 04/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Curling Royalty: Jones, Arsenault lead experienced Nova Scotia rink at Scotties

KINGSTON, Ont. - Colleen Jones was a teenager the last time she handled sweeping duties at a national women's curling championship.

Now 53, she's back at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the first time since 2006 but this time around will be throwing second stones for longtime teammate Mary-Anne Arsenault. Together they'll anchor an experienced Nova Scotia rink that is considered curling royalty.

Jones is a six-time champion making her record 21st career appearance at the event. Instead of skip, she will serve as vice-skip and third on the team, a positional change that she welcomes.

"I used to find skipping absolutely exhausting," she said Friday. "This is my first Scotties since 1979 that I'm sweeping. I think the reason why I found skipping exhausting is that you're constantly stressed. Your shoulders are up (high), you spend the whole time just brain-worried.

"Now I don't have that same worry. So I'm hoping that without the brain exhaustion, I'm not as exhausted as what I felt when I was skipping."

Jones appears fit and ready for the more taxing demands of her position. She does yoga and stretches daily while mixing in regular weight work and off-ice physical activity.

She's confident her rink can compete against a tough field at the K-Rock Centre, where some skips are less than half her age.

"It's funny when you come here, you more or less get into your own bubble in a hurry," Jones said. "You aren't looking around at the other teams. We're here to stay in our bubble and do what we do well."

Jones teamed with Arsenault, Kim Kelly and Nancy Delahunt to win four straight Scotties titles between 2001 and 2004. They split in 2006 but the core group reunited this season with a slightly different look.

With Arsenault at skip and Jones at third, Kelly is the second but throws third stones and newcomer Jen Baxter is the lead. Delahunt is also on board as the alternate.

Arsenault said it took a few months to adjust to the changes. She plays with an offence-first mentality while Jones often uses a more defensive style.

"I think over the season I've gained more confidence and she's gained more confidence in me," Arsenault said. "So everybody's happy with their roles."

Defending champion Heather Nedohin will lead a deep field at the nine-day tournament. Her Edmonton-based rink opens against New Brunswick's Andrea Crawford on Saturday afternoon.

Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones is attempting to win her fifth Scotties title in her 10th appearance. Two-time champion Kelly Scott of British Columbia is back and Rachel Homan leads a strong young Ontario rink.

Other skips include Alberta's Kristie Moore, Saskatchewan's Jill Shumay, Quebec’s Allison Ross, Prince Edward Island’s Suzanne Birt, Kerry Galusha of the Northwest Territories/Yukon and Stacie Devereaux of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The teams will play an 11-game round-robin draw and the top four rinks will make the Page playoff round. The medal games are scheduled for Feb. 24.

Nedohin defeated Scott in last year's final in Red Deer, Alta. She went on to play at the Ford world women's curling championship in Lethbridge, Alta., and finished third behind Sweden and champion Switzerland.

The winner of the 2013 Scotties will represent Canada at the March 16-24 world playdowns in Riga, Latvia.

Jones, a two-time world champion, said the memories came rushing back as soon as she walked into the empty K-Rock Centre for a practice session Friday morning.

"You're just looking at the four sheets and everything looks so perfect," she said. "You kind of reminisce a little bit even though I promised I wouldn't do that. But it makes your heart beat a little bit faster.

"So it feels awesome to be back."

Notes: The men's national curling championship begins next month. The Tim Hortons Brier will be played March 2-10 at Rexall Place in Edmonton. The winner will represent Canada at the men's world championship March 30-April 7 at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria.