Considering 2013 was supposed to be a challenging learning year for the Red Deer College Queens soccer team, hopes are pretty high for this year.
With 12 freshmen on the squad last year, they still finished 5-3-2 and in third place in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference South Division before losing 4-0 to the NAIT Ooks in the first round of the playoffs.
This year, all of that talent is one year older and that much better prepared for the rigours of a college soccer season.
Though there are only five returning players, they have 13 players who have either played major league or college level soccer.
“It’s not necessarily the games … but it’s the ancillary stuff that preys on the mind,” said head coach David Colley. “When you have the veterans, they know how to deal with things and they can pass on lessons to the rookies.”
Colley seen how quickly they came together last year as rookies, and that gives him a lot of hope for this year, despite once again, a lot of new faces in the lineup.
“Qualifying for playoffs is a must … but my aim is to make it through the first day, either by coming in first in the division or by winning our Friday game which we didn’t do last year,” he said.
The biggest challenge they may face on the field this year — outside of staying healthy — is replacing the eight goals scored last year by Kayla Blacquiere who has moved on to the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns and the Mountain West Conference.
Colley is hoping one of the few freshmen on the team is up to the task with Innisfail’s Sydney Daines taking over Blacquiere’s spot at striker. Daines knows full well what is expected of her, despite this being her first year out of high school.
“Me and Kayla have actually played a lot together so we kind of have a similar style,” she said. “There is pressure, but pressure is always a good thing.”
Daines is a three-sport star, also hoping to find a spot on the RDC Queens basketball team and is in the process of trying to qualify for the Canadian Finals Rodeo in barrel racing on her 10-year-old quarter horse Flame. She has three rodeos this weekend, in Okotoks on Friday, then Armstrong, B.C., on Saturday and Merritt, B.C., on Sunday.
But she is still focused on making a successful jump to the college soccer and basketball ranks.
“(The biggest challenge) is the physicality and the practicing and committing to the team and representing Red Deer College,” said Daines, who is going after her education degree.
But not everything is falling on the 18-year-old striker offensively. They are returning several other players up front with a scorer’s touch, including Celine Jensen and Kaitlin D’Arcy.
Their strength is down the middle, however, starting in net with goalie Lauren Good and right through the back row of defenders that includes Abby Rogers, Alexandra Moyer, Chelsea Webster, Roxanne Unrau, Savannah Pratt and Allyssa MacPhaden, and into the midfield with Teala MacEwan, Moira Duley and Jessica Whyte.
“There’s a couple of positions where people will fight for positions, but there’s a lot of positions where we have a lot of experience,” said Colley.
Rogers is one player that right now is flying under the radar, after spending last year with Dodge City Community College in Kansas City.
“She came back to Canada for the education and she’s been a surprise to everyone,” said Colley. “Not me, I’ve seen her play, I’ve scouted her and saw her play, but she rarely plays a ball badly and she knows exactly how to position herself.”
The Queens open up their season on Sept. 6, hosting the Medicine Hat Rattlers at 2 p.m. and then the Lethbridge College Kodiaks on Sept. 7 at noon. It will be a good early test for the Queens, especially against the Rattlers who host the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championships this season.
“I’m excited, there’s nothing like playing games, you don’t know anything until you play your first weekend,” said Colley. “(Medicine Hat) should be coming with a strong team and not looking to just rely on that automatic place into nationals finals, if I know (Rattlers head coach) Jim (Loughlin), they’ll be looking to win the division to show they deserve to be in nationals by right.”