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Former Team Jones vice Zacharias has no immediate plans to return to curling

Manitoba skip Mackenzie Zacharias watches a rock as they play Northwest Territories at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts at Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan Manitoba skip Mackenzie Zacharias watches a rock as they play Northwest Territories at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts at Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
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Scratch the name Mackenzie Zacharias from the list of potential replacements for skip Jennifer Jones when she retires from the four-player game at the end of the season.

Zacharias, who stepped back from curling last spring after one season as vice of Jones's five-player team, said she's not tempted to return to fill the upcoming vacancy.

"I'm very happy with where I'm at," Zacharias said Wednesday. "Those girls are great (players) and I wish the best for them moving forward. It'll be interesting to see who they pick up in the end."

Jones announced her retirement plans before the start of the recent Canadian women's championship in Calgary. Her Winnipeg-based team, now a four-player side, settled for silver after falling to Rachel Homan in the final.

Zacharias, who won a world junior title in 2020, surprised many curling observers last year when the team announced she'd be taking a step back from the sport to focus "on her career and other passions in her life."

The news came a couple months after the rink took silver at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. For Zacharias, it capped a 10-year run of competitive curling from juniors through to elite women's team play.

The 24-year-old Winnipeg resident shifted focus to her full-time work as an exercise physiologist, some occasional travel and new hobbies like running and cycling.

"It has been a lot of fun just doing some other things for a change," she said in her first wide-ranging media interview since stepping back. "I'm looking forward to what's coming up in the future too."

Zacharias said she "had a blast" serving as an alternate for Kate Cameron's team at the recent Manitoba playdowns. It also gave her an opportunity to see whether she had missed the sport.

"It also made me realize I was very happy with where I was and just content with that at the moment," she said.

On Monday, in a cryptic post on her Instagram feed, Zacharias called the 2023 Scotties final loss "the biggest blessing I could have asked for." She also noted she's more confident now and is surrounded by a circle of amazing people who build others up around them.

"Lesson of this last year," she posted. "Don't be afraid to leave damaging situations. There is more than you could ever imagine out there for you."

When asked about the post, Zacharias paused briefly before answering.

"How do I say this best? Everyone experiences different things differently," she said. "With curling, (like) other sports, people only see the half that there is to see. There's a lot of other things that happen. Unfortunately some of those things, they weren't always great.

"There were just enough of those times that I felt like it was best for me to take a step back."

She added the grind of the curling tour was sometimes a challenge. Eventually, she said, it was not always the best experience for her on the road.

"It was a bunch of things combined and all rolled into one," she said. "It left me feeling that I wasn't excited to play anymore. Once you're not excited to do any job, it makes it more and more difficult to do. That's where I just decided that I needed to change things up."

Zacharias said the goal of her social media post wasn't necessarily to point negative light on certain situations, but instead open the conversation for those who have had similar experiences and grown from it.

"Just to shine a light on bringing what's negative and then making it more positive," she said. "And then learning from it as well."

Her sister, Emily Zacharias, plays second for Jones on a team with third Karlee Burgess and lead Lauren Lenintine. Mackenzie said she talked with her sister after the final and said their relationship is "great."

"I will always cheer her on in whatever she decides to pursue," she said. "That relationship hasn't changed whatsoever."

As for her other former teammates? "I don't actually want to comment on that one," Zacharias said. "I'm sorry."

Zacharias added she's thankful she could grow and learn from her experiences in the curling world. And the decision to step back was hers alone, she said.

Asked if she had any regrets about joining forces with Jones to create a five-player team, Zacharias replied: "I think in the end, what was supposed to happen happened.

"And that's honestly all I can really say about that."

Next up on the women's curling calendar is the March 16-24 world championship in Sydney, N.S. Homan will skip the Canadian team.

Team Jennifer Jones is scheduled to play at the season-ending April 9-14 Players' Championship in Toronto.

   This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2024.

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