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North America 12, World 6 after Women’s team play

So, the only important matches at the Continental Cup are on the weekend, eh?

Cheryl Bernard isn’t buying it.

Team North America kicked off the 2011 World Financial Group Continental Cup, presented by Monsanto, with two of a possible three wins in the women’s team games on Thursday morning.

Granted, North America’s 12-6 lead over Team World may seem like a paltry sum, especially with weekend skins games worth as much as 55 points apiece, but Calgary’s Bernard begs to differ following her 6-2 win over defending world women’s champion Andrea Schoepp of Germany at St. Albert’s Servus Credit Union Place.

“Every little point’s going to count, because at the end it could be a two- or three-point difference,” said Bernard, the defending Olympic silver medallist at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, whose rink includes Susan O’Connor, Carolyn Darbyshire, and Cori Morris. “You don’t want all that pressure on the last day, either. You build up a little bit of a (points) bank, it probably helps.

“And for us, even, to feel good on the ice and come off with a win was really nice, since it’s the first time for us here,” added Bernard. “And it’s really neat to play for an entire (24-person) team. It’s different. You’re usually playing for you. Halfway through, when they were all cheering because we got a couple of points, I thought, yeah, it feels good playing for a big team like this.”

The first team to 201 points wins this marquee event, which is based on a format similar to golf’s Ryder Cup, with team, singles, mixed doubles, and skins disciplines.

In Thursday morning’s other women’s team action, the Jennifer Jones quartet of Winnipeg outlasted 2006 Olympic silver medallist Mirjam Ott of Davos, Switzerland, by a 7-5 count to give North America another win, while the World’s lone victory was recorded by China’s Bingyu Wang, who gave up a five-spot in the second end but still managed to defeat Erika Brown of Madison, Wis., 9-7.

The house was crowded during the early ends of the Bernard-Schoepp showdown – in the third, 12 of the 14 rocks thrown to that point were in play, seven of them in the house – but Bernard counted a deuce in the fourth and stole one in the fifth for a 5-2 advantage.

Andrea Schöpp of Team World Shouts During Draw 1

“I never play with that many rocks, but European teams love it,” chuckled Bernard. “And I’m practising for a skins event next weekend, so I need the practice.

“We got rocks set up pretty good in the middle ends, there, and getting a good lead on this ice was important.”

Jones, the 2008 Ford World women’s champion, traded big blows with Ott in the late stages. Jones scored three in the fifth to go up 4-2, and surrendered three in the sixth to fall behind 5-4, but drew for another trio in the seventh, and the game’s final points, after Ott missed a takeout.

“There were a few bad shots by both teams in those ends to give up the threes, but both teams also made some really good ones. Fortunately for us, we got the last three, which was a good position for us coming home,” said Jones, whose foursome includes Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, and Dawn Askin.

Wang, meanwhile, gave up that early five-ender, but counted a pair in the third to claw back into the game at 5-3, then stole deuces in the fourth and fifth to surge into the lead at 7-5.

“We were not so comfortable on the ice (early), and did not recognize the ice change. We missed a lot of shots, the weight, the line, all of those things,” said Wang, the 2009 women’s world champion, whose Harbin crew includes Yin Liu, Qingshuang Yue, and Yan Zhou.

“We just tried to get back to five points, tried everything. And they started to miss some shots,” added Wang. “I think we had a good start. Now we just feel comfortable after this game.”

Thursday’s 1:30 p.m. MT draw is a mixed doubles affair. North America’s Jones and Carter Rycroft face the World’s Zhou and Torger Nergard on Sheet A; North America’s Kevin Martin and Ann Swisshelm square off against the World’s Niklas Edin and Monika Wagner on Sheet B; and North America’s O’Connor and Shawn Rojeski tangle with the World’s Wang and Thomas Ulsrud on Sheet C.

Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. MT draw will feature men’s team games — Edin vs. North America’s Pete Fenson of Bemidji, Minn.; 2010 Olympic gold medallist Martin vs. Scotland’s two-time world champ David Murdoch; and Ulsrud vs. reigning world men’s champion Kevin Koe of Edmonton.

All wins are worth six points on Thursday, while ties are worth three.