Coming out of high school McKenna Barthel liked the idea she was headed to the U.S. to play volleyball.
“My sister had some friends who played in the States and they said it was a good experience,” she explained. “They helped get my name out there plus I had a recruiting video made to show to coaches. I had several coaches call me and I went on a couple of visits to Texas and Iowa.”
She settled on a full ride scholarship to Iowa Western, which was the top Division I junior college in the nation for most of the season, finishing fifth at the nationals.
Six months later the Lindsay Thurber grad returned home to Red Deer.
“I wasn’t a fan of being so far from home,” she said. “I thought I’d like it and I didn’t. Still I’m glad I went. If I wouldn’t have I would have regretted it.”
Barthel returned home and committed to the RDC Queens this season, although she couldn’t play the second half of last year.
“Their season down there is from August to November, so when I returned home I already played the year so I wasn’t eligible to play until this year,” explained the 19-year-old, who talked with Queens head coach Talbot Walton prior to going south.
“You’re always interested in the elite local athletes,” he said. “She grew up in the Queens club system, who are players we like to target. I discussed her future with her and she was committed to going to the States. Fortunately for us she decided to return.”
Barthel practised with the Queens at the end of last season, which was a major step in feeling comfortable this season.
“It was like I was a veteran in that I knew the system and knew what Talbot expected rather than just coming in as a freshman.”
The six-foot native of Red Deer took over as starter on the right side right off the bat.
She feels the volleyball is similar in calibre she played at Iowa Western, except she plays both the front and back row at RDC.
“They are much more position specific down there. I would play the front row and then they’d use a defensive specialist in the back row for me. I did miss playing the back row.”
Barthel is solid in both the front and back row and understands when she needs to work on.
“Last weekend my passing wasn’t where it needs to be, but other than that I need to stay consistent and making sure I get the big blocks.”
“McKenna understands the game and although she didn’t play with us last year she is like a veteran and is one of our leaders,” said Walton.
Playing on the right side she’s up against power hitters. So far this season she has 10 stuff blocks, tied with left side Kelsey Tymkow for the most on the team behind the middle blockers.
“Blocking is something I really enjoy, especially against good players.”
Barthel learned the game in school and with the Queens Club program. She always played power hitter until she joined the U16 provincial team.
“They played me some on the right side and it went from there,” explained Barthel, who also played on the provincial U17 team.
“I didn’t play U18 because I had to leave for the States in July,” she said.
Barthel, who has 77 kills, 13 assists, 13 aces, 104 digs and 10 blocks in 56 sets this season, is in business and could be around for some time.
“I will be back next year for sure,” she said. “I can finish my degree here if I want to so I could keep playing for several years.”
Which will be fine with Walton.
“She has good skill … an elite level athlete,” he said. “She has the opportunity to be a top player in the league.”
The two-time defending national champion Queens have been inconsistent this season, something they need to correct before the ACAC playoffs, set for Feb. 25-27 at RDC.
“I think we haven’t had the confidence we need at all times,” said Barthel. “When things start going against us we let mistakes bother us instead of shaking them off. No one is perfect and we just need to be consistent.”
That’s been obvious of late as the Queens split a weekend doubleheader with the Briercrest Bible College Clippers, who came in ranked No. 4 in Canada, then the next weekend split a doubleheader with the Ambrose Lions, who were last in the South Division.
Barthel feels they can play with anyone in the league and having home court in the playoffs will help.
“Hosting is good for us, especially with a good fan base.”
The Queens need to show their consistency this weekend as they host Lethbridge Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m.). RDC has an 11-7 record and tied with Olds for third place in the South back of BBC (16-4) and SAIT (14-4). Lethbridge is 3-17.
The Kings have wrapped up first place in the South with a 17-1 record with Lethbridge, the only team to defeat them this season, at 12-8. Medicine Hat is at 11-7 and SAIT at 9-9.
The men’s ACAC finals are set for Feb. 25-27 at NAIT.