RDC Queens volleyball head coach Talbot Walton had his fingers crossed that Jaclyn Neufeld would find a way to return this season.
But the veteran left side hitter is entering her fourth year of the nursing program and just doesn’t have the time.
“We weren’t sure if she’d be back as she had to weigh all her options,” said Walton. “She had to look at her long-term career and she had to commit to that. She’s graduating in a couple of months and she has her sights set on a unit at the hospital and she’s on call, so that makes it tough for her to play.
“But good for her. We have some good athletes looking to fill that spot, now it’s a matter of waiting and seeing who steps up.”
The Queens have four veterans and three rookies vying for the two outside hitter spots.
Brooke Sutter, Makenze Quinn and Sidney Ponto saw a significant amount of playing time last year while Ashley Vincent returns after red shirting.
Lindsay Thurber female athlete of the year Telaina Snider, Jessica Newman of Calgary and Karissa Kuhr of Fort McMurray are newcomers on the outside.
“We have a lot of athletes similar in size and ability,” said Walton. “They’re all good athletes and have strong passing skills and defensive abilities.”
The Queens have experience in the middle with Danielle Newton returning as a third-year starter and Leanne Price in her third year. Dannel Van Alstyne is also back. The veterans will be pushed by Sylvan Lake native Shelby Bramall, who played at H.J. Cody as well as with the Red Deer Queens U18 Club program.
“She has good size, is strong and coming out of the club program she’s a step ahead of kids who don’t play at that level,” added Walton. “The fact is the club program is important for us in getting players ready to step in.”
Setting should be one of the team’s strengths with Kirsten Sorensen back for a second year and the addition of Megan Wood of Edmonton, who played with Team Alberta.
“We’re lucky as we have a combination of setters as good as we’ve had for some time,” said Walton. “They have size, strength and ability. Both can play which means Sorensen will be pushed which she needs.
Megan Brouwer returns as the libero to round out the 14-player roster.
Walton isn’t sure exactly how to judge this year’s team.
“We need to play to see where we’re at,” he said. “I believe we’re as strong (as last year). The setting will help that as they’ll run a crisp offence with good tempo. Our outside hitters will give us good ball control and they have the potential to be dynamic.
“In one aspect we’re ahead of last year at this time especially with nine players back who know our system, which we put in early last year, and the kids who played at the club level in Red Deer (Snider and Bramall) used the same system.
“We’ll need lights out passing, which is something we emphasize early. We won’t be the most physical team at the net, so we need our foot-work to be bang on.”
The Queens won’t see action until the Wild Rose Classic, Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
Japan won’t be attending this year, but the Queens are going to Hokkaido at Christmas.